by Prem Panicker

Adapted from “Randaamoozham” by M T Vasudevan Nair


CONTENTS Kahani hamari Mahabharat ki......................................................1 Behind Bhimsen ........................................................................3 Episode 1 .................................................................................5 Episode 2 .................................................................................8 Episode 3 ...............................................................................12 Episode 4 ...............................................................................15 Episode 5 ...............................................................................18 Episode 6 ...............................................................................22 Episode 7 ...............................................................................26 Episode 8 ...............................................................................30 Episode 9 ...............................................................................35 Episode 10..............................................................................40 Episode 11..............................................................................43 Episode 12..............................................................................47 Episode 13..............................................................................50 Episode 14..............................................................................56 Episode 15..............................................................................60 Episode 16..............................................................................65 Episode 17..............................................................................70 Episode 18..............................................................................74 Episode 19..............................................................................77 Episode 20..............................................................................81 Episode 21..............................................................................84 Episode 22..............................................................................88 Episode 23..............................................................................93 Episode 24..............................................................................96 Episode 25............................................................................ 101 Episode 26............................................................................ 106 Episode 27............................................................................ 111 Episode 28............................................................................ 114 Episode 29............................................................................ 119 Episode 30............................................................................ 124 Episode 31............................................................................ 129 Episode 32............................................................................ 135 Episode 33............................................................................ 141 Episode 34............................................................................ 147 Episode 35............................................................................ 151 Episode 36............................................................................ 156 Episode 37............................................................................ 160 Episode 38............................................................................ 165 Episode 39............................................................................ 169 Episode 40............................................................................ 174


Episode 41............................................................................ 179 Episode 42............................................................................ 184 Episode 43............................................................................ 187 Episode 44............................................................................ 193 Episode 45............................................................................ 198 Episode 46............................................................................ 203 Episode 47............................................................................ 210 Episode 48............................................................................ 215 Episode 49............................................................................ 219 Episode 50............................................................................ 223 Episode 51............................................................................ 229 Episode 52............................................................................ 239 Episode 53............................................................................ 245 Episode 54............................................................................ 248 War Reporting....................................................................... 254 Episode 55............................................................................ 257 Episode 56............................................................................ 263 Episode 57............................................................................ 269 Episode 58............................................................................ 274 Episode 59............................................................................ 280 Episode 60............................................................................ 288 Episode 61............................................................................ 296 Episode 62............................................................................ 302 Episode 63............................................................................ 307 Episode 64............................................................................ 312 Episode 65............................................................................ 318 Episode 66............................................................................ 323 Episode 67............................................................................ 328 Episode 68............................................................................ 335 Episode 69............................................................................ 341 Episode 70............................................................................ 350 Episode 71............................................................................ 356 Bhimsen: Epilogue................................................................. 362 E & OE ................................................................................. 373



Kahani hamari Mahabharat ki
As a child growing up in the ancestral tharavad in Calicut, Kerala, dusk was my favorite time. My grandmother would ritually light the lamp, bring it out into the front porch to the traditional call of dee-pam!—the call that signaled that her work for the day was done, and the storytelling could begin. Grandma was a brilliant narrator, with skills stage performers would envy: thus, rather than tell the tale in linear fashion, she would set the stage, conjuring up a vision of the setting, the characters, the backdrop, and then leading into her story which she told with dialog, occasionally poetical riffs, and an educated ear for the inherent drama. The Mahabharat was her favorite go-to book when it came time for telling stories; mine too. Though she ritually worshiped the Ramayan [there’s this one month in the calendar when, at dusk, she would bring out her copy and read aloud from it for an hour; I’d find other things to do, but as I heard her end the day’s reading, would come running back for the sweetened poha and other goodies that were a part of such rituals]. She sensed that the very linear, black-and-white morality play that is the Ramayan was not conducive to gripping narration the way the Mahabharat was, with its highly charged central narrative embellished by the underlying filigree work of side stories and tangential asides. That halcyon period developed in me a taste for epic narrative that subsequent years have only enhanced. It prompted me, during my teens, to read the Mahabharat in its entirety, as translated into Malayalam prose by Vidwan K Prakasam. I then discovered various re-tellings of the epic, each brilliant in its own way: the plays derived from the epic, by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar (no, no relation); Chellappan Nair’s play Karnan; PK Balakrishnan’s novel Ini Nhan Urangatte (Let me sleep now), a brilliantly textured retelling of the Mahabharat with the focus on Karna as seen through the eyes of Draupadi; and of course M T Vasudevan Nair’s Randaamoozham, an amazing re-imagining of the epic from the point of view of Bhimsen.



This soft spot for the epic prompted me to pick up Chitra Bannerjee Divakarunni’s Palace of Illusions the day it hit the bookstores, and to read it that same evening/night. Had I written a review next morning, as I was tempted to, it likely would have been unprintable; now that some months have gone by, initial disgust has been replaced by— indifference, I think. I noticed at the time that Jai Arjun Singh on his blog had reacted with initial contempt, followed by a more sober appraisal; rather than look at the book in my own turn, I’ll leave you with his take. [If you are into this sort of thing, read also Jai’s excellent essay on modern renderings of mythological tales.] Anyway, to the point of this post: At the height of my being pissed off with Divakarunni’s book, I re-read a couple of my favorites, including the books of ‘MTV’ and Balakrishnan [the latter, incidentally, is conceptually on the same lines as Palace of Illusions, in that the Karna-Draupadi relationship is a dominant theme—but there the similarity ends]. And that in turn led me to attempt a recreation of MTV’s Randaamoozham. It is not a translation. It is not even a transcreation, if you go by the accepted meaning of the term. What it is, is a re-telling, in which— with profound respect for one of my favorite writers—I intend to stay faithful to the central narrative and its governing emotional undercurrents, but manipulate time lines and incidents, and where necessary even chapter progressions, to suit my own narrative. Let me put this another way: I was so pissed off by Palace of Illusions, that I decided to piss all of you off with my own attempt at a version of the Mahabharat. You have been warned; episode one follows. In fact, I’ll manipulate the date and time stamp on this thing so the first episode comes under this post, not above. I have a bit written already, but not much; since I’ll mostly be doing this on the fly, I’ll try and stick to a schedule of two episodes a week, upping it to three if I can find time to get sufficiently ahead in the narrative. PS: If anyone out there knows where I can get hold of an English translation of Sivaji Savant’s Mrityunjaya [Which is the Mahabharat from Karna’s point of view; while on that, Karna more than any other figure from the epic appears to have been the springboard for outstanding interpretative literature], I’d dearly love to get hold of a copy.



Behind Bhimsen

Wow, that’s neat—far more mail feedback on the Bhimsen episode than I imagined, and here I was wondering whether such an effort would bore readers to extinction. So okay, doubts firmly erased; next chapter tomorrow, and at least two a week here on. A couple of readers asked if there was some other reason for my doing this, other than the pleasure of sharing a good story. Actually there is—the final push came out of a discussion with my hugely literate uncle, shortly after a recent re-reading of the MTV book my own effort is based on. But to recount that discussion will be to jump the narrative gun; I’ll keep this thing in mind, and bring up the discussion when I get to that point in the story that triggered it. Meanwhile, the best answer for why came in a mail from Jai Arjun Singh; the relevant bit reproduced here with his permission: Would love to read translations of some of the lesser-known retellings/re-imaginings from around the country - it would be very revealing because, as you know, the specifics of these old stories and myths vary greatly as one moves from one part of the country to another. There’s a north Indian village, for instance, where Duryodhana is historically worshipped. With a work as staggeringly vast as the Mahabharata, the only way to do justice to it is to read as many different versions, written from as many different points of view as possible. Precisely. And while on that, appreciate feedback from you guys on versions you may have read in your own languages, what you liked and what you did not—to cut a long sentence short, talk to me. And while on this, also read Jai’s take, in Tehelka, on Ekta Kapoor’s television serial on the epic [I caught a couple of early episodes, and haven’t bothered since]. My criticism of Ekta Kapoor’s Kahaani… isn’t based on a rigid preconception of what the Mahabharata should or should not be. To the contrary, I see the epic not as a holy text with lessons that are set in stone but a complex, fluid work of literature privy



to constant rethinking and re-analysis – its many interpretations range from Kamala Subramanian’s unabashedly sentimental view of the characters to Irawati Karve’s coolly anthropological take in Yuganta. The Mahabharata offers easy answers to no one, except perhaps to those who are determinedly seeking only the easiest answers (in which case the simple-minded 1960s film version – a collection of audience-pleasing setpieces about the heroics of Bheema and Arjuna, played by Dara Singh and Pradeep Kumar respectively – should suffice). When freed from the shackles of a morality play, it provides imaginative filmmakers and scriptwriters with so many rich possibilities. Just one example: while Krishna can be depicted as the dewyeyed God of the Bhakti tradition - omniscient, forever in control, naughty smile permanently in place (which is how every mythological serial inevitably chooses to depict him) - it’s equally possible to show him as a shrewd Yadav chieftain with a powerful understanding of the hearts and minds of other men. Or even as a vulnerable Avatar who has only a dim view of the role he must play in the larger picture, and who is frequently swayed by the human dramas around him. (Ramesh Menon’s renderings of the epic show Krishna as a lonely, almost frightened God as he prepares to impart the Bhagwad Gita to Arjuna, knowing that this is the moment that his whole life has led up to, and wondering if he will pass the test.) Each of these readings could be fascinating and insightful if done well, but sadly only one – the first – will ever make it to our mytho-soaps. ....The most potentially interesting mytho-serial I’ve seen recently is Sahara One’s Draupadi. Though it features the usual over-decorated sets and actors with Colgate smiles, it eschews the “big picture” of the Mahabharata in favour of the quotidian details of the characters’ lives – their living-room conversations, their gossip. Theoretically, such a show could stretch on for decades and this would necessarily have the effect of humanising all the people; for example, it would be difficult to think of Duryodhana as a cardboard-cutout villain after you’ve seen him having a relaxed, post-dinner chat with his wife and children. I wonder if turning our epics into never-ending daytime dramas might be the best way to capture all their complexities.”

He was holding the reins and pretending to drive. The sun beat down on us. looked around anxiously. a poke. the crowd that had gathered around us. of how Yudhishtira was Dharma incarnate. signaling her impatience with a quick rap of her knuckles on top of my head. and found my younger brother perched in one of the chariots lined up just outside the gates. Mother. she frowned down at me. “Where is Arjuna?” I went off to look. while a watchful charioteer held the horse in check with a hand on the bridle. kept growing.BHIMSEN 5 Episode 1 “Who is this Yama Dharma?” I looked up at my mother. the maids had decked us out in silk robes and the heavy gold ornaments uncle Dhritarashtra had sent for us: a manytiered necklace that almost covered my chest. Elder brother Yudhishtiraa turned around to stare at me. The court singers seated on the raised platform just outside the gates of Hastinapur sang on. I grabbed Arjuna’s hand and walked him back to where mother stood waiting. to make Yudhishtira squeal in pain and run off to complain to mother. When we played our games in the forest. how he would conquer 14 kingdoms and become emperor. all it took was a push. in that very adult. staring. whispering. with a patience I didn’t share. chunky gold . I giggled at the thought of my elder brother waging wars and conquering kingdoms. carrying Nakulaa on her hip and holding on to Sahadevaa’s hand. pointing. disapproving way he had even at age six. a circlet of gold studded with pearls on my forehead that was starting to pinch. Before we set out from the forest that morning. “Why are those singers saying elder brother is Yama Dharma’s son? Isn’t Pandu our father?” Mother shushed me.

and under all that gold and silk. climbed onto the raised platforms on either side of the enormous flagpole that reached into the sky. Setting . Someone else said the rishis who cast my horoscope had told King Dhritarashtra that I was born to destroy the Kuru race. Why were they calling me the son of Vaayu? Why was I born to destroy the Kuru clan? Did the rock really splinter when I fell on it? It wasn’t a good time to ask questions – mother’s attention was clearly elsewhere. With drumsticks as thick as my legs. and a white beard that streamed over his chest. Now I was sweating profusely. with long white hair piled like a crown on top of his head. me and Arjuna in front of her. He is the son of Vaayu. they began pounding out a rhythm on the two enormous kettle drums set on either side of the gate. the God of Wind. attacking people at random. a golden band crusted with diamonds around my waist. “Grandfather Bhisma. was born to be the strongest man in the universe.. I heard them sing my name. she was looking towards the city gates with relief and anticipation on her face. jackals had wandered the streets of Hastinapur in broad daylight howling. when mother Kunti was cradling me. Two men.. after a beat. I turned in time to see the enormous gates swing open.BHIMSEN 6 bracelets on my wrists. slipped out of her arms and fell on the rock she was sitting on – and the rock splintered into a thousand fragments. Bhimasen. pointing at me and murmuring. they sang. They sang that shortly after I was born. The balladeers ended their song to a flourish of the nadaswaram and mridangam.” mother said under her breath as she walked forward. I heard one woman say that on the day I was born. pushing Yudhishtira. they started up again and this time. I had begun to itch. A man came striding through the open gates – an elderly man. I wriggled. bodies slick with oil. they sang of me while the crowd pressed even closer.

Yudhishtira walked ahead of us and. smiled down at her. and surrounded us. By then. her bowed head touching his feet. “The king and queen are waiting to greet you. we walked through those gates and entered the kingdom mother told us we were born to rule. I got back on my feet and tried to brush some of the dust off my arms and chest. He raised her up. “Come. A group of priests began reciting some mantras. maids carrying trays with burning lamps. he said something I didn’t hear in the din of the drums and the crowds. mother pushed me forward to pay obeisance in my turn. as the drumbeat mounted to a frenzy and the crowd cheered and called out our names. “The children have come. who always seemed to know the right thing to do. she fell to her knees in front of the old man. incense and flowers circled us while others bent to wash our feet with water from golden pots. Good!” Yudhishtira. Mother took Arjuna by the hand. as he bent down to bless my brother with open palm on top of his head. picked Nakula and Sahadeva up and swung them onto his shoulders.BHIMSEN 7 Nakula down. a procession had come through the gates.” I heard Bhisma telling mother. As he blessed me. . was prostrating at Bhisma’s feet.” He bent down.

why were we living in this small wooden home in the middle of the forest? Where was our kingdom? I never got answers. The difference was that mother always had a teasing. If father was a king and we were princes. I sometimes thought. The rishis and others who lived nearby were frequent visitors. There were many such things. Neither of them would trouble to answer my questions. Two weeks ago. attended by two maids and a cook. And each time he called me those names. and stories from the puranas that had lessons in them about dharma and all sorts of other things I did not properly understand or even care too much about. Our home was a wooden lodge in the middle of a clearing. and paid obeisance whenever they came visiting – just one more of those things I didn’t understand at the time. Living in the forest was fun. this whole thing about us being princes was just a fairy story. Arjuna was four and Nakula and Sahadeva just three – mantras to say at various times of the day. My mother often told me I was slow. Early each morning we went swimming in the river.BHIMSEN 8 Episode 2 It all felt very sudden. watching and laughing when I tried to pull Yudhishtira under water just to hear him squeal. one or the other of the rishis from the hermitage would come over. mother Kunti and cheriyamma [younger mother] Madri. we were living a carefree life in the forest – five of us. plus father Pandu. I felt the anger bubble up inside of me. stupid. but my brother’s comments seemed to be laced with impatience. just me and Yudhishtira. though. very strange. . So did elder brother Yudhishtira. contempt even. though Nakula and Sahadeva only sat on the bank with the maids. and teach us – actually. After breakfast. they referred to our father as king. fond note in her voice when she called me those names. Maybe.

under the trees. Father and cheriyamma had wandered off into the forest. we could play in the forest. was dead. I usually returned home after dark. Suddenly we heard the sound of wailing. Every evening an old. Unlike the singers outside the gates of Hastinapur. I’d take the little mace a carpenter who came to do some repairs on our home had made for me. father laughing at something cheriyamma was telling him. Our father. while I gripped my mace and pranced around. or to fight endless battles against the trees and bushes that in my imagination became big rakshasas or powerful enemy princes. crying. That day two weeks ago. and she sang to us of Rama and Ravana and of a titanic battle in a city in the middle of the sea. Her fingers strummed this string so fast the sound became a continuous hum. mother was minding Nakula and Sahadeva. In the courtyard outside. I heard one of the rishis telling another that father had climbed the rock to pick a . this woman had no nadaswarams accompanying her. and that was always fun. the maids were sitting on the ground. Occasionally I’d come across some wandering jungle tribe. and the rishis who had come hurrying up from their ashrams were talking to each other in whispers. and ran out of our room. mother and Madri cheriyamma were hugging each other. pretending I was Hanuman. to chase rabbits and deer or to see if I could catch fish with my bare hands. and Arjuna was shooting off his toy arrows at the maids. blind lady would come and sit by a fire in the courtyard. They would feed me deer meat and little birds roasted in the fire. no mridangams to provide the beat. Yudhishtira and I went with the rishis to where his body lay near a rock.BHIMSEN 9 The rest of the time. though Yudhishtira mostly stayed with the rishis. their children and I would wrestle in the mud or play hide and seek among the trees. and wander off into the forest. hollow gourd attached to a bamboo pole. we were at our lessons. I had seen them go from the window of our room. I learnt. beating their breasts and wailing loudly. with a metallic string stretched from the tip of the pole to the end of the gourd. to sing songs of ancient heroes and their deeds. There was blood around his head. asking them all sorts of questions about things that bored me. All she had was this dried out.

Our cook brought out a big barrel of ghee. I was too paralyzed to move.BHIMSEN 10 fruit for Madri cheriyamma. Nakula and Sahadeva started to bawl. as if they knew what cheriyamma was going to do. She just stood there. . and saw two chariots pull up in front of our home. Mother called out to Yudhishtira. fell. The rishis lifted father’s body onto the pyre. wearing her best silk robes and all of her jewelery. who he loved very much and would do anything for. And then I saw cheriyamma come out of the house. she walked into the flames. Only mother and Yudhishtira stood there. chanting hymns for the peace of the departed soul. and talked for a long time. Yudhishtira. I choked back my tears and bit my lip on a dozen questions I didn’t know who to ask. Arjuna ran away inside the house and one of the maids ran after him. too horrified to cry out. The hunters cut down a big tree. which he poured all over the logs. The rishis spread plantain leaves on the ground and laid father’s body on in. her head bowed and lips reciting some prayer. She hugged each of us. Some hunters we met on the way helped carry his body back to our home. A man wearing red robes and a very big headdress got out of the first chariot. I wanted to turn away. then walked around the pyre thrice. and hit his head on the rock. mother knelt before the pyre and touched her head to the ground. walked around the pyre three times. chopped it up into logs and piled them high. unmoved. they all went inside. She turned. who had come back from the river with his hair and clothes still wet. looked once at my mother and then. As the flames sprang up from the ghee-drenched logs. the rishis sat around the body. with a flaming log in his hand. but I stood there watching in a kind of horrified fascination as the flames covered her from head to foot. I was wandering around in the forest when I heard the clatter of horses’ hooves. He slipped as he was reaching for the fruit. almost casually. not crying out. I ran towards the clearing. and then touched the log to the pyre. A lamp burning ghee instead of oil was placed at his head. not even once. Two days later. not moving.

You have to support your brother always. “We are going back to Hastinapura. apply my mind to my studies. the next in line. you have to learn much. to our kingdom.” That was when I finally realized it was all true – we were princes. Uncle Dhritarashtra had sent us silk robes and all kinds of ornaments so that when we returned to Hastinapura. mother told us. Much later. And I – mother told me that I had to stop my playful ways. . We all sat around the fire. we would be dressed like the royal princes we were.BHIMSEN 11 Two men got down from the second chariot and began unloading several big wooden boxes which they carried inside our home. after the men had driven away in their chariots. and to be a good deputy. elder brother Yudhishtira was heir apparent of the Hastinapur throne and someday would be its king. she sang stories of our family. and for the first time. She then took us to where the maids were unpacking the boxes the men had carried inside. she told me. our clan. You are Yudhishtira’s deputy. The blind singer came to us that night.

the adopted daughter of the king of Gandhara who.” she told mother as she led her into the palace. while we stood around wondering what to do. Nakula and Sahadeva laughed and chattered happily. thin lady with gray hair and a black cloth covering her face stood at the palace doors. our uncle. used to the rough forest floor. My feet. valiyamma lifted her up and embraced her and the two women sobbed in each other’s arms. capable of taming a thousand masth-maddened elephants. the blind prince of Hastinapura. The two giant warriors standing guard at the gates of the main audience chamber lowered their spear points and stood aside as we approached. their bodies slick with oil and weapons gleaming in the lamplight. Grandfather Bhisma gently urged us towards valiyamma. my husband is waiting to see you. vowed that from the day of her marriage she too would give up the use of her eyes. and the groups of soldiers who stood around in clusters. Arjuna and I followed.BHIMSEN 12 Episode 3 A tall. the singer had told of valiyamma [elder mother] Gandhari. Valiyamma hugged each of us. The songs we had heard in the forest spoke of King Dhritarashta. Mother ran up and prostrated at her feet. looking around at the tall pillars. the endless corridors. On our last night in the forest. “Come. Yudhishtira walked beside grandfather Bhisma and great uncle Vidura. We walked across the threshold and into a hall lit by dozens of lamps wedged into the walls and pillars. running her fingers lightly over our faces and murmuring blessings in our ears. in the arms of the palace maids who had taken them from mother. when she learnt that she was to be married Dhritarashtra. this was probably an exaggeration – but seated on the golden throne at the far end of the chamber was the most physically powerful man I . as the most powerful man in the world. slipped and slid on the polished marble as we walked down the length of the hall. and we prostrated at her feet in turn. Like most of their songs.

When we had all paid our respects in turn. arms and legs bulging with muscle and barely covered by a deep red silk robe. Uncle Dhritarashtra got up from the throne. Valiyamma took my mother by the hand and led her off to one side. “Son Bheema has grown well. cold. gold arm bands circled his upper arms and a thick gold chain glinted at his waist.” he said in her direction. I felt his fingers prodding at my face. wrapping those massive arms around her. the songs said. frightening. Uncle plucked me off the floor and lifted me into his lap. stroking her hair and murmuring something in her ears. I looked around the great hall. Then it was my turn. Eyes still turned towards the ceiling. wondering where they were and why they hadn’t come to greet us. and found myself staring at a boy my own size who was staring fixedly right back at me. I saw his eyes – flat. “I. I looked up and for the first time.BHIMSEN 13 had ever seen. a peerless warrior.” Mother’s voice sounded as if she were crying. the widow of your brother Pandu. his chest was covered with a gold necklace of many strands.” he announced in a thin. arms. prostrate before you. He was dressed in yellow silk robes. eyes turned upwards at the ceiling as if he was straining to hear every sound. said his name. my chest. his enormous chest. A circlet of gold held his long hair in place. Kunti. We already knew he had a great many children—a hundred sons. he will be a giant. white. I moved sideways to get a better view. uncle gathered us all into his arms and turned towards where my mother was standing. . A glint of gold near a pillar behind the throne caught my eye. reedy voice that sounded odd coming from such a huge man. Without waiting to be told. Everything about him was huge – his head. and paid obeisance at uncle’s feet. Yudhishtira stepped forward. What struck me most of all was the way he held his head – tilted up and away from us. “I now have five more sons. he reached down and lifted my mother up as easily as if she were a child.

I stood there. angrier still with this unknown boy covered all in gold who had turned his back on my smile.BHIMSEN 14 I smiled at him. . He kept staring. he turned on his heel and disappeared through an opening in the wall behind the throne. abruptly. And then. I was angry with myself. feeling very foolish.



Episode 4

I woke to the sounds of the conch, the nadaswaram, the mridangam, the bansuri and the veena combining in harmony from the courtyard of the palace that had been set aside for us. Those sounds had, on our first morning in Hastinapura, startled me out of deep sleep and sent me stumbling to the window of my room. As days grew into weeks and weeks into months, the burst of predawn music, such a startling contrast to the quiet of the forest, became the signal to get started on the activities with which our days were increasingly filled. We five brothers now slept in our own rooms. Even as I blinked my eyes open, my personal maids and male attendants would be at the door with hot water and fragrant oils for my bath, fresh clothes and ornaments for me to wear, and braided flowers for my hair. It took me some little while to get used to all this attention, to stand still while attendants stripped off my clothes and applied oil all over my body and the maids scrubbed my chest and back and legs while others washed my hair, whispering to each other and giggling all the time. The hardest thing to accustom myself to was the flowers in my hair – only women wear flowers, I protested that first day, but the maids only giggled some more while braiding the flowers into my hair, and then fixing a circlet of gold with a diamond the size of an egg around my forehead to keep the hair in place. Even as the maids fussed, other sounds began to intrude: the neighing of horses from the courtyard below; the shrill trumpeting of elephants in their enclosure; the sudden blare of the enormous trumpets signaling the changing of the guard. Once we were dressed, we had to go to the gurukul for our lessons in the vedas and the shastras. Yudhishtira was always the first to arrive; I was inevitably the last. The bath always made me hungry, and though we were forbidden to eat before class, my maids would



smuggle in some meat dishes and a plate of sweets for me to gobble down before I ran to school. We had a teacher to ourselves; he would be waiting for us, seated cross-legged under the enormous peepul tree in the courtyard of our palace. Uncle Dhritarashtra’s sons studied under a different teacher, in their own palace. Uncle Vidura’s sons were supposed to join us for lessons, but they never came. ‘Good,’ Yudhishtira once told me when I asked, ‘They are sudras; they shouldn’t be seated with us kshatriyas anyway.’ He was a big one for that sort of thing, my elder brother, very conscious of who he was and who was inferior to him. I found my mind wandering while the guru recited from the vedas and explained the meanings of the various slokas and mantras. We were taught the prayers we were to say at different times of the day and their meanings: the Gayatri, which we had to recite immediately on waking; prayers to Indra, the Lord of Gods; to Agni, the god of the seven flames; to Rudra, the fearsome manifestation of the wrath of Brahma the Creator. In the privacy of my own room, I added another prayer – to Vaayu, who wanders the earth with the seven winds on a leash, and who the court singers said was my father. It started with this strange dream I had, my first night in the palace. I was playing around in the elephant paddock when suddenly, one of the elephants broke loose from its chains and came charging at me, trumpeting furiously. I screamed and ran for my life; behind me, I could hear the thud of its feet as it bore down on me. I saw a tree and ran towards it, thinking I could climb it and get away from the charging elephant. But just as I neared the tree, I saw a man in full armor standing below, his hands holding a silver mace raised threateningly in my direction. I whirled around, and saw the elephant was almost on me, its head lowered and tusks poised to rip my body in half. I woke up screaming, and sat up in a strange bed in a strange room, feeling the sweat on my face and body. Gasping for air, I walked over to the window and pushed it open – and felt the touch of a gentle breeze like a caress, stroking the sweat off my body, soothing me, making me feel safe, protected.



From that day, the last thing I did every night was pray to Vaayu. Actually, prayed is the wrong word – I stood at the open window and I spoke to him like you speak to an affectionate father, telling him of things that had happened to me that day. And always, the very last thing I said was, ‘Vaayu, my father, while you wander the earth, remember me; remember your little boy. Keep me safe from harm.’ And just then, a gentle breeze would come out of nowhere, caressing me with the softest of touches, soothing away my fears. Or maybe I was just imagining it.



Episode 5

The best part of my day began once Vedic studies were over, and we went to Guru Shukracharya for lessons in the martial arts. Shukracharya’s gurukul was just outside the palace gates, surrounded by open fields on all sides, and it was in those fields that we practiced what we were taught. As princes, we had to learn the intricacies of the chaturanga sena, the four-pronged army with the foot soldiers as the base and chariots, horse and elephants ranged around them. Our lessons were divided into two parts: we had to learn to fight in each of the four prongs – on foot, on the chariot, on horseback and while mounted on the big war elephants. And we also had to learn strategy – the strengths and weaknesses of each of these units, and how to combine them in formations to best advantage when waging war in different conditions. Our cousins studied under Guru Kripacharya, while we were busy playing catch-up under Guru Shukracharya because grandfather Bhisma felt our education had been neglected during those years in the forest. Within two years, however, he decided that we had done well enough to graduate to Guru Kripacharya’s class, and for the first time since we returned to Hastinapura, we began spending time with our cousins. I enjoyed the lessons, even though I didn’t care much for the way I was treated. Everyone – our guru, my cousins and even my own brothers – seemed to think of me as a fat, slow-moving, dull-witted sort of fellow who was only fit for hand to hand combat. In Kripacharya’s eyes, Yudhishtira was the master of the chariot and Arjuna of the bow and arrow. In their books, I was fit only to wrestle and fight with the mace, and even in these disciplines, our gurus thought cousin Duryodhana was my better. They were wrong, all of them, or maybe they just didn’t see what was becoming obvious to me. I was growing up strong, powerful. I loved to swim, to run with the horses in the exercise yard. Through these and



other amusements, I had developed power and agility—for all my size, I found I was able, when fighting from a chariot, to hop on and off at will, approaching the enemy on foot when it offered me an advantage, and jumping back onto the racing chariot again whenever I wanted to, in a way Yudhishtira could never match. And over time, the power in my arms and shoulders and back helped me bend the bow deeper, draw the string further back, send the arrow flying faster, further, than even Arjuna could manage, though with the bow and arrow I was more deliberate than my younger brother, who seemed blessed with the ability to find his target almost without conscious effort. I found it difficult at first to keep my anger in check when Kripacharya praised others and ignored me—but in time, I decided it was better to keep my thoughts and my growing belief in my abilities to myself. In class, I played the part of the bumbling fool they had decided I was; once class was done and my brothers and cousins had gone off to play, I wandered off to some quiet corner of the field to with my bow and arrows, or practiced weaving the single-horse chariot, which is much harder to control than the four-horse variety, at great speed around various obstacles, or driving it at top speed in rapidly narrowing circles while hopping on and off at will. I was not the only one who stayed back after class. While the others gathered in groups and went off to play, Arjuna invariably headed off to the fenced-in area meant for archery practice, and spent hours working with his bow and arrow. The two of us, each driven by our needs and desires, gradually grew close. We talked a lot, and helped each other when we could. I taught him exercises to build power in his wrists, elbows and shoulders; he taught me how to adjust for wind, how to gauge the speed of a moving target and lay off my arrow so it went where the target was going to be, and not where it was when I shot. He was just 10 years old, but he already knew he wanted to be the greatest archer of all time. He believed that Indra, God of all gods, was his father and prayed to him constantly. He told me that when the time was right, his divine father would come to him, gift him celestial weapons and teach them their use. And in the meantime, he practiced relentlessly with his bow and arrow, keeping it up even long after I had finished and gone off to my room for a bath and a meal.



One evening, a group of traveling singers from Magadha came to our palace. They have the gift of sight, my attendants told me; they could see the future. That night, they sat around a fire and sang, long into the night, stories of our clan and its glories, of kings and queens and marriages and wars and above all, they sang of my younger brother. They sang of a future in which Arjuna, the greatest archer of all time, would set out in a chariot drawn by four white horses to subjugate the known world, with his god-gifted bow in hand and an inexhaustible quiver at his back. Kings and emperors would bend their knee to him, they sang; princesses would be enamored of him; his dark good looks would seduce even the Apsaras in heaven. Agni and Varuna, they sang, would be poised on the tip of his arrows, ready to devastate on his command. They didn’t sing much about me—just that same old story of how I would destroy the Kuru clan single-handed, how I was born to drink the blood of my cousins. As the Magadhans sang, mother cried silently—tears of great happiness as she listened to the songs that foretold the glittering future of her favorite son. When the fires died down and the singers finished their songs, mother lavished gifts on them – costly robes and silver trays loaded with sacks of gold coins. Most evenings, while Nakula and Sahadeva played with my mother, and Yudhishtira joined them and sometimes even Arjuna, I would slip away to the elephant paddock. The mahouts soon got used to my being around, and since I was the only one of the Hastinapura princes who bothered to visit the elephants, they indulged me, allowing me to climb on the elephants, feed them sugarcane, and help in their washing and grooming. There was this one very old mahout, very thin and so frail you would think an elephant would blow him away just by breathing on him, but he was the one all others acknowledged as their guru. They told me he had learned the science of elephant-training from the rishis in the Himalayas; that he could stop a maddened elephant in its tracks just by reciting a mantra. At first this elderly mahout ignored me, but as the days passed and my interest in the elephants only increased, he took me under his wing and began teaching me things. He marked out a young elephant and ‘gave’ it to me for my own; he told me that it would grow with me, and



that he would help me train it to obey my commands alone, and to make it the most fearsome war elephant in the entire stable. I was grooming my elephant one evening, rubbing coconut husk dipped in water along its trunk and forehead, when I sensed that someone was watching me. Near the massive wooden gates at the far end of the paddock, I saw Duryodhana standing hands on hips, watching me. With him was Dushasana and, to my surprise, Yudhishtira. Wondering why my brother and cousins had come to see me, I handed my elephant over to a nearby mahout to finish the grooming, and walked towards them. It was only when I got closer that I realized my mistake: it was not Yudhishtira standing there with my cousins, leaning casually against the giant pine trunk that held the door of the paddock. It was Karna. [This post by Jai Arjun Singh is also worth your while—not for the fact that he mentioned this serial, for which of course my thanks, but because Jai on the subject of the Mahabharata and of literature in general is always insightful, and because in a way, his earlier writings on this and other epics, and his review of The Palace of Illusions were among the mental prompts that got me started on this exercise.]



Episode 6

I did not know Karna, not really, not then. He was just one more face in the crowd around the Kauravas, Duryodhana in particular, when we met for lessons. This was the first time I was seeing him up close, and it struck me how much he looked like Yudhishtira. Up close, he was a shade darker than my brother, but otherwise the resemblance was uncanny. When I stepped out of the paddock the three of them moved quickly, putting themselves between me and the gate. I realized that this was trouble – if they wanted to stop me from going back inside, it meant they were planning to do me some harm. I could have shouted for help, but something, maybe the fear of being thought afraid, stopped me. I pretended to be unconcerned. ‘It’s getting late,’ I said. ‘I’m going for my bath.’ I walked away. Behind me, I heard their footsteps rapidly closing in on me. I spun around – and found them just a couple of feet behind me. They stopped. Duryodhana laughed. ‘Look, the fat fellow is afraid!’ Dushasana laughed too, like an echo of his elder brother. He was like that – everything Duryodhana did, he copied. Karna, who had stopped a couple of feet behind the other two, just smiled. There was something about his smile though, an edge of contempt perhaps, that angered me more than the laughter of the other two. ‘Look at him, Duryodhana,’ Karna called. ‘This is the fellow who they say is born to destroy the Kauravas. Look at him, standing there trembling like a fat fool.’ ‘Fat fool!’ Everyone called me that. I was always fond of food, and watching me eat more than my brothers put together, my mother would call me that, half in exasperation, half in affection. Elder brother Yudhishtira often called



me that, when I dozed off in Vedic studies, or when I got bored listening to him and uncle Vidura discuss the rules and obligations of kingship. Even my gurus, Shukracharya and Kripacharya, often called me that when they thought I was slow to pick up something. But this was different. To hear those words from the son of a charioteer, as I remember Yudhishtira once telling me Karna was – that I couldn’t ignore. Duryodhana stepped closer to me; Dushasana followed like his shadow. They were strong, well built, and particularly adept at wrestling. I saw Duryodhana settle into the ardha mandala stance, feet slightly bent, knees out, centering himself at the waist as we had been taught. I knew what would happen next – he would lunge with his upper body, get his arms around me and lock me to him, while Dushasana attacked me from the side. I could see Dushasana edging sideways, waiting for his brother to make the first move. This was no time to worry about rules, or to fight the way we had been taught. I focused on Duryodhana, sensed him tensing for the lunge and at that precise moment, I kicked out hard, hammering the heel of my foot into his right knee with all my force. He yelled in pain as he lost his balance. Before Dushasana could react, I spun sideways and crashed my bent arm into his face, aiming my elbow at his nose. Surprise is a good weapon but you can only use it once. The two brothers would recover, and this time they would be more careful – and I didn’t know if Karna planned to take a hand. I slipped behind Dushasana, who was yowling in pain, and grabbed him by his hair. It was slick with oil; I had to twirl his hair tightly around my fingers to get a good grip. I leaned over and as Duryodhana scrambled up from the ground, holding his knee, I reached out with my other hand and got a good grip on his hair. Standing behind them, holding them firmly by their hair, I tugged hard. They yelped. Karna stood where he was, watching, making no move to interfere. I had to finish this quickly – I couldn’t just stand there holding them forever. Bunching my muscles, I cracked their heads together. Bang, and then again and again. Duryodhana moaned; Dushasana began to yell at the top of his voice.



I sensed people running towards us—some mahouts, a couple of soldiers who must have been standing guard at Kripacharya’s gates. ‘What are you doing? Why are you hurting them? Let them go!’ I heard the voices, but didn’t pay any attention; I kept banging their heads together… bang… bang... Finally someone wrenched me away; others surrounded Duryodhana and Dushasana, checking them for injuries, wiping away the blood streaming from their heads. Karna stayed where he was, acting as if he was no part of all this. I stared at him; I wanted him to know that his time was coming. One day I’d find him alone – and then I’d pay him back for his taunts, his contempt. I’d pay that debt with a horse-whip on his back—the son of a charioteer deserved nothing better. I turned around, and walked away towards the river. When I got back to the palace, it was dark. I walked towards my mother’s room, and found her talking to Yudhishtira. They looked up when I walked in. My brother came towards me and gave me a brief hug. It surprised me – Yudhishtira was never the kind to hug, to show affection openly. I hugged him back, walked over to where my mother was seated, and bent to touch her feet. ‘Why did you attack Duryodhana and Dushasana from behind and hurt them badly?’ she asked me. Apparently the story of what happened that evening had already spread; even mother, who never stepped out of the pavilion, had heard. ‘I didn’t.’ I didn’t say anything else – I just stood there waiting, not elaborating. ‘That suta putra Karna, came into the hall when I was with grandfather Bhisma and uncle Vidura,’ Yudhishtira told me. ‘He said you hid behind some trees, and when they were going towards the river for a bath, jumped on them from behind and hurt them badly.’ I looked at him, but said nothing. My mother reached out, caught me by the arm and pulled me into her lap.



‘Son, keep away from those boys as much as you can. Even if you are not at fault, you will be the one who is blamed for any trouble.’ I touched her feet and turned to go. ‘Bhima, child, be very careful,’ Yudhishtira said. ‘Duryodhana doesn’t like to be beaten. He will want revenge; they will try to get you alone and cause you harm. Always be on the alert. Don’t go out alone, especially after dark.’ I nodded and walked away. I may be a fat fool, but I had already figured that out.



Episode 7

Once every few weeks, we’d get a break from our studies. On such days we left the palace before dawn, riding our ponies into the surrounding forest, accompanied by hunters, dogs, beaters, and an army of cooks and attendants. Hunting is an accepted part of princely education – or maybe it is just that the Kuru clan loved hunting so much we found excuses to indulge. That was one of the mysteries about our father that I hadn’t found an answer for – the way we were told the story, he was king at the time. He was the younger brother but uncle Dhritarashtra was blind, so grandfather Bhisma decided that our father Pandu should rule. He was very fond of the hunt, and he went one day into the forest to indulge in his favorite pastime. When kings go hunting, there’s a little more to it than just riding out into the forest, shooting a deer or two and riding back at nightfall. The whole thing is planned ahead of time; workers go out into the forest to build a luxurious lodge for the king and his courtiers, and an army of cooks, maids and men servants are on hand to ensure every comfort. So our father Pandu went into the forest for a hunt, accompanied by his wives and favorite courtiers and his best hunting dogs – and then something happened out there. I never learned what it was, but Pandu never returned to his kingdom. Right there in the forest he took off his royal robes, handed the crown to his brother, and stayed there in that lodge until his death. It was just one more of the many mysteries surrounding our family history, but today I wasn’t thinking about that. I enjoyed such days, and looked forward eagerly to when I would get to spend the day in the forest, observing and learning as the experienced hunters stalked their prey and brought it down with arrow or spear. There was something about that moment that fascinated me. The deer, startled by some sound, would bound into the air and hurtle forward. The hunter, bow string drawn back to its full extent, the bow

and hunting knives at our belts. and judging by the sign. around him crowded a group of hunters. each of us going off with one party of hunters. applauding. The twanggg as he released the arrow. In the middle of it lay a large deer. deep into the forest. We were deemed too young. laughing. and showed me how to tell which direction the beast had taken from the markings. understand animals and their habits. ‘Brother. aiming ahead.’ Just then. Arjuna was everyone’s favorite. We got back on our horses and galloped in that direction. But though we carried small spears. I’ll bring down a deer. I guessed that some of the hunters must have decided to indulge him a little. the suddenness with which an animal running at full speed would buckle at the knees. so we knew this was a big kill. from another part of the forest we heard the distinct notes a hunter blows on his horn to mark a kill. ‘A boar!’ I guessed.’ Arjuna said as we set out for the forest. racing through the trees until we came abruptly to a large clearing. to take active part in the hunt. how to stalk an animal. We all got off our horses. allow him a chance. would lead off. There was the sound of much whooping and yelling. ‘Very good – it’s a boar. watch! Today. The idea of organizing such days in the forest was so we could learn jungle craft. its antlers alone almost as big as I was. Next to it stood Arjuna. In the forest we split up. the liquid thud as it slammed into the body of the deer. He came running up to me.BHIMSEN 27 quivering with the tension. still. showed me how deep the leaves had been pushed down into the mud. ‘I got him! One arrow – straight to the heart!’ . learn how to read the marks on the forest floor. cheering him. though. He pointed out to me the dead leaves that had been crushed into the forest floor. bow in hand. Let’s go get him. The hunter leading our group found some fresh tracks. The hunter patted me on the head. it was mostly for show. and lie inert – I never could get enough of it. fall. how to ride it down at full clip on our horses. it is a very large one.

I could only stand there. I heard voices calling out to me. I couldn’t move – I just stood there. More people came running into the clearing. Suddenly. They didn’t seem too pleased that Arjuna was the first among us cousins to take that major step towards becoming a kshatriya. born to destroy the Kurus. At some point. proud of his skill. Suddenly. frozen to the spot. a warrior – that he was the first to draw blood.’ I heard Yudhishtira saying. Yudhishtira went up to Arjuna. in front of me. I froze.BHIMSEN 28 I hugged my little brother. Its bristles stuck out from the mud covering its body. The sounds grew louder – some large beast seemed to be racing through the forest. Yudhishtira… Duryodhana. paralyzed. they hugged each other and danced around in joy. walked off towards the forest. trying to distract the beast. as the boar flew through the air at me. Don’t forget your duty as a kshatriya – you should make an offering to the god of the forest. when still some feet away. I saw with great clarity the beady little red eyes glaring at me. As the . its two tusks. though I had no clear memory of doing it. Duryodhana and the others stalked away. it leapt. I had gripped my spear with both hands and was holding it. with an almighty roar. it charged towards me and. sharp as spear points. I remember thinking. That is how they would sing of me. ‘It is your first kill. my mind cleared. killed by a boar in the forest. so this is how it ends – Bhima. gleamed on its lowered head as it raced in my direction. I couldn’t speak. Vaguely. I heard the hunters behind me yelling. urging me to turn. as if from some place far away. attracted by some sounds in the distance. The boar had clearly scented me. point down. It was huge. to run back towards the clearing. smiling proudly. I left my brothers and the hunters to their celebrations and. an enormous boar burst through the trees and appeared in the path I was heading towards. the beaters hammering at their drums. With lowered head and churning legs. the tusks flashing in the light of the fires in the clearing. Dushasana and a few of the other Kauravas… a big crowd was building up.

I stumbled over to the boar. I ducked and thrust upwards. tasting a few drops of blood. without thought. become a kshatriya. My nostrils flared at the smell and I breathed in. almost without being aware of it. A great spout of blood flew up and splattered over my face. it lay still. As I hit the ground. my vision was blurred. yanking the spear out of my hands – and then. I had. . I licked at my lips. my heart thump like a drum inside my chest. yanked it out. with the weight of my body. it thrashed desperately. My legs felt weak. The boar roared. deep. I realized I liked that moment. a sound that froze the blood. with my foot on its stomach. suddenly. I had killed—and. burying the spear just below the head. feeling it sink into flesh as the boar hit me. my body. Even as I fell I remembered to keep my grip on the spear. knocked me off my feet and tumbled me to the ground with the violence of its charge. drove it in deeper. grabbed hold of the end of my spear and.BHIMSEN 29 boar loomed over me. unsteady. I put my shoulder to the silver butt of the spear and. that feeling. as the shock wore off. feeling my head swim. I got back on my feet.

Dushasana. very close to me. and that would have been my finish. They surrounded me. But the hunt. soothing me. and went off for a bath. blows raining on my head and body. I had found the strength and the courage to stand my ground. Karna and over a dozen other of my cousins. to kill where I thought I would be killed. I wanted to wash the blood away. till I could hold my breath no longer. I could have panicked. Ever since that day outside the elephant corral. I wanted to pray Vaayu. I had known exactly what to do. I asked them to send some to the palace. I felt hands hitting me. But somehow. letting the water lap at my body. On the bank stood Duryodhana. and then made our ritual offerings to the forest gods. as the hunters had yelled at me to do. But somehow. more than anything else. my mind had cleared at the last possible instant. calming me. The cooks had built a fire and were preparing the meat. going deep. my divine father. I had always taken care never to go anywhere alone. Arjuna and I. holding my breath. Thankfully. I took off my clothes and dove into the river. turned around and ran. the excitement of my first kill had driven all those thoughts from my head – and given them the chance they must have been waiting for. had waited while the hunters skinned our kills. sinking down till my feet touched the earth. all eager to hurt me – the fools . in those moments when I saw death hurtling towards me. We. I hadn’t felt his presence in the forest.BHIMSEN 30 Episode 8 It was very late when I walked away towards the river. I stood there. particularly late in the evening. I shot up to the surface – and found myself in trouble. I tried to clamber out of the river. for keeping me safe from harm. they were all crowded together.

in the midst of all the pushing and shoving I got my chance when Duryodhana and Dushasana came within reach of my arms. I reached out. that I headed back up to the surface. I had taken a deep breath before making my move. Whenever . come at me—and the sheer weight of their numbers could put me down. my body. holding on tight and ignoring their struggles as they thrashed about. and kicked at Duryodhana. I clambered out of the water and walked to where my clothes were. He raised his head and caught my eye. weren’t prepared to go underwater. and tumbled backwards into the river. clearly afraid. I pretended to be hurt more than I was. I dragged them towards the shore. I dragged on my robe and turned back to where Duryodhana and Dushasana lay crumpled in the mud. finishing dinner. ‘Look at me!’ I roared. to somehow distract them so I could break away. retching out water with every other breath. I’ll kill all of you!’ I turned my back on them and walked away. I’ll kill you. ‘The next time you try to do me harm.BHIMSEN 31 didn’t realize that by attacking me as a crowd. my chest and back. taken by surprise. I needed to find a way to escape. A thought occurred to me. The others stood back. dragging them in with me. but Duryodhana and Dushasana. I squeezed. I walked up to where they lay. kept my hands at my sides and took the blows on my arms. but as it happened. I hit the water and went deep. I wanted to lash out. I was in my room. Late that night. they could get their courage back or. gasping. out of sheer desperation. pay them back for the beating they had given me – but I knew that if I took that first step towards them. felt them go still. It was only when I felt their struggles weaken. they were only getting in each other’s way. wrapped my arms around their necks. I had hoped through this tactic to find enough of a gap to break free and run away. The best thing about being in Hastinapura was the food – dozens of different dishes that the giggling maids loved to keep heaping on my plate. and threw them down in the mud.

that her eyes burned with anger. this adopted daughter of Subhala. When my turn came. erect in her anger. to kill each other. spoke our names aloud. though. and they went up to pay their respects to their mother.’ She sat there in her chair in the middle of the room. paid due obeisance. call me a fat fool.BHIMSEN 32 I ate with my brothers and my mother. . with his brothers. have you?’ Her voice. We walked through the maze of corridors. that of all the many beautiful princesses who had come to Hastinapura as brides down the years. Yudhishtira came out just then. and Arjuna. I hastily washed my hands and walked out into the courtyard. kill – at least we won’t be around to see our children’s blood spilt. until we came to valiyamma Gandhari’s room. Fight. Kunti and I will go away into the forest. We went up to her. she would frown at me. and the meat of deer and boar were doubly spiced by the knowledge that they came from Arjuna’s kill. tell me now. holding Nakula and Sahadeva by the hand. Yudhishtira would stare. and when we are gone you can do what you want. I could eat all I want – my maids competed among themselves to see who could tempt me into taking a second helping and a third and a fourth. Without a word. And today. mother led us across the courtyard and into the main palace. I don’t want to stay here and see you spill each other’s blood. the light of a single lamp underlining the harsh black of the cloth that covered her face. ‘So you have already started a war among yourselves. was the most beautiful. I had this strange feeling that even through the thick black cloth covering her face she could see me. the king of Gandhara. and mine. I needed no tempting—the exertions of the day put an edge on my appetite. Mother was already there. A guard came in and said I was wanted in the main palace. made harsh with anger. and read me a lecture on gluttony. I had heard the traveling Magadhans sing of her. ‘If you have decided to fight each other. lashed at us. In the privacy of my own room. Duryodhana came into the room just then.

at the palace gates. Subhala was being threatened by rival kings and welcomed the idea of an alliance with the strong Kurus to save his own kingdom. or those other children her husband had fathered through his various concubines. From that moment on. they wish us ill. ‘All of you will grow up and get married – and I feel sorry for those unfortunate girls you will bring home as brides. But inside their minds and hearts. her normally soft. she saw her husband for the first time.. When she arrived in Hastinapura. No one moved. She stared long and hard at Dhritarashtra. and not even at Dusshala. And then she turned to her brother Shakuni. accompanied by one hundred male attendants. ‘I know that. a hundred and fifty maids.. gentle voice as harsh and vicious as the crack of a whip. the Magadhans sang.’ Mother bent down and whispered something in her ear. who stood at the palace gates waiting to receive the bride he would never see. I have lived that life. the sobs of those beautiful young women who have been sacrificed to the so-called men of the Kuru race—uncaring men. blind men. At the time. asked him for a black cloth. impotent men. the people thronged the gates. Each night as I walk through the corridors of this palace I hear the sighs. but valiyamma paid no heed. seeping into us like the winter chill. marvelling at the blinding beauty of the young Gandhara princess. and tied it over her face. ‘In this palace there are men who smile and bow and scrape at you.’ valiymma Gandhari said. no one breathed.BHIMSEN 33 Grandfather Bhisma had gone to King Subhala and asked for her hand for the blind prince of Hastinapura. her only girl child. Without telling his daughter what kind of man she was going to marry he sent her off with Bhisma. We surround ourselves with ghouls in the guise of astrologers and rishis and .’ Her voice cracked. she hadn’t looked at anything else in all her life – not at the sons born to her. ‘The men of the Kuru race have always delighted in the tears of their womenfolk. And then. No one dared break the awful silence that enveloped the room. several carts filled with gold and jewels and her brother Shakuni as escort.

Shukra and Kripa and all those others who live off our bounty? They teach you to kill.’ Slowly. . leaving us standing in our silence. ‘You were not born to be enemies.’ ‘What do they teach you. They will never tell you that if all of you stand together. painfully.. You were not born to destroy our race. you have no reason to hunt your cousin like a dangerous animal. Mother took her by the hand and together. Kill each other or die trying if you must. valiyamma got up from her chair. all of you.BHIMSEN 34 courtiers. lost in thought. I will leave this palace that day.’ Valiyamma sighed. Duryodhana. there is no power on this earth that will be able to resist you. my child. there is no king. all of whom want to see the ground littered with the bodies of Hastinapura’s princes.’ We stood there. those courtiers and singers we surround ourselves with. not looking at each other. the two women walked slowly out of the room. but I will not remain here to see any of it. ‘If I ever hear that any of you fought outside the training grounds. not looking at her. they have not. and they will not. They will tell you stories and sing to you songs of how you were born to destroy each other. And you. they don’t want to see you stand united. You are brothers. For a long moment she sat there. They don’t want to see you strong. how jackals howled and the moon turned red the night you were born. but have they taught you what your real strength is? No. heads bowed. my son Bhima.. because your strength is their weakness. how you were born to kill each other. and our shame. these gurus of yours. you are meant to learn and to play and to grow up together – but they won’t tell you that.

Though we practiced in dead earnest and each tried his damndest to defeat the other. so we planned a picnic. ‘We are all waiting for you’. where he was learning the game of dice from one of uncle Dhritarashtra’s ministers. there were smiles and jokes all round. he frowned and said he wasn’t coming.’ . A disciple of our maternal cousin Balarama had joined the school to teach us the art of fighting with the mace. and we even got together for games after our studies were over. Where? ‘We are going to the water pavilion – no studies today. I looked up as cousin Chitrasena walked into my room. there was no animosity and if one of us got injured. instead. Nakula and Sahadeva. None of them knew where Yudhistira was. and it showed in the changed atmosphere when we cousins met for our martial studies. they are all waiting for you. so I ran back into the palace. ‘You know we never go anywhere without you. good food. Duryodhana and I. Come on. joking and laughing with Arjuna. the other was quick to offer help. When I told him about the planned picnic. valiyamma Gandhari had not forced us to make any promises. Yudhistira seemed uncomfortable when I walked into the room and caught him at the dice board.BHIMSEN 35 Episode 9 One of the maids came in to tell me I had a visitor. ‘Aren’t you coming?’ Chitrasena asked.’ I got ready in a hurry. I told him. We no longer avoided each other. Games. That night in her room at the main palace. Invariably. and walked into the courtyard of the main palace with to find Duryodhana. and finally tracked him down to a small room near the main audience chamber. would be paired together. but her words had affected all of us. the strongest among the Kauravas and Pandavas. plenty of fun. Dushasana and the other Kauravas already there.

pillar-like structures of various heights from which you could dive into the water. I picked up a couple of modaks and headed out for a swim. Bhima. It had rooms to rest in. I went first to the kitchen. ‘No. ‘The meat of deer and boar dressed in a dozen different ways. was a lovely structure nestling in that bend. Blankets had been spread on the ground. ‘I sent father’s chief cook and three dozen helpers ahead to make sure we have a splendid meal waiting for us. with comfortable pillows to sit on and lean against. Duryodhana signaled to an attendant. ‘We have a feast for you today. was bustling around. who brought two covered mud pots. where the chief cook of Hastinapura. come. and drove along the road leading to the Ganga. Arjuna and me to go with him. I dived off the tallest of the pillars. The younger ones tired first and clambered out. Attendants stood by with huge silver plates piled high with food. roasted partridges and fried fish. my brother got up from his game and walked out with me. We had a great time. a fat. especially in the hot summer months. jolly fellow who knew my fondness for food.’ He walked off towards the trees. with Dushasana stretched out on my back I swam to the other end of the river and back. Duryodhana came up to me. laughing and clapping me on the back as I climbed onto the chariot. a very large kitchen and a larger dining area. he invited Yudhistira. There was a deep bend in the river at one point.’ He invited me to taste. He took one.’ he told me. and passed me the other.’ We piled into more than a dozen chariots.BHIMSEN 36 Very reluctantly. there is a special arrangement just for the two of us. and all the sweats you can eat. The water pavilion where Kuru kings and princes loved to sport. where it almost doubled up on itself forming a vast water body. I was the last to come out of the water. and on the river bank. went deep under water and held my breath as long as I could. just for the two of us. Duryodhana was already mounted on one of the chariots. ‘What is this?’ ‘Soma!’ he laughed.’ he said. ‘The best alcohol. where are you going. ‘Don’t worry.’ . heading to the dining area. showing off to the younger ones. As I headed off to the dining pavilion.

I gulped a big mouthful down and felt a surge of nausea. that stuff is for peasants. especially not after he had just praised my first kill and hailed me as a man.’ He removed the cloth cover on his pot and took a deep swig. had embraced him and arranged a special pooja to mark his passage to kshatriya status. and took a big mouthful. on hearing of how Arjuna brought down a grown deer with a single arrow. like raw lemon. ‘You think we should drink?’ ‘This is not Sura. Fighting to keep from showing it and disgracing myself. raised it to my lips. except Yudhishtira. I ripped the cloth off my pot. Bheema. You killed a fullgrown boar with just a spear! You are no longer a boy. This is the best Soma. I reached out for a chunk of deer meat and popped it into my mouth.BHIMSEN 37 I was startled. Even uncle Dhritarashtra had sent for my younger brother. I felt this sudden rush of affection for my cousin. the first woman you enjoy – you can never forget these experiences.’ my cousin said. ‘You fat fool.’ I couldn’t have Duryodhana thinking I was too frightened to drink. ‘Are we supposed to be drinking?’ ‘You are a warrior. mother had praised Arjuna for his skill. It was sweet but also kind of tart. the first drink you taste. ‘The first animal you hunt. And here was Duryodhana – the first to acknowledge my kill. to mark me out as a kshatriya. as he drank deep. praised his skill and blessed him. ‘Do you know which king is physically the strongest in the world?’ .. I took a second gulp. the first enemy you kill. with a bow and arrow. You’ve made your first kill – and in the forest that day you didn’t kill from far. and found it easier to get down my throat than the first..’ When we returned from the forest that day. Grandfather Bhisma. don’t you have any sense? How could you have wandered off like that. when we met in mother’s room. if you are scared. from my father’s private stock. all on your own and with no hunters for company?’ he had scolded me that evening. No one took any notice of the fact that I had killed a grown boar. a full-grown warrior. ‘Of course.

went into the forest and did penance for a long time. I’d heard how Jarasandha the Magadhan king had easily defeated Balarama in single combat. and for another. and there was a sneer in his voice. am telling you this!’ I grabbed my pot and took a deep gulp. and blessed him with the strength of one thousand elephants. Rishis and paid singers keep repeating the story of all those divine fathers and miraculous births. I too will inherit that strength. ‘No. during which the impotent Pandu miraculously has sons. ‘Don’t laugh – I. as a boon from my father. for sure. ‘Oh-ho. twin sons of the Ashwini twins – what. but don’t imagine I am as big a fool as you!’ I sat stunned.’ I said.’ laughed Duryodhana.’ he said. not to be outdone. Nakula and Sahadeva. ‘My father. Bheema. suggested my mother and Madri cheriyamma were immoral. yes.’ He gulped down another mouthful. Bheema. He had called us bastards. but he is only second best. not to be left behind. king Dhritarashtra. One day. I did the same. ‘Jarasandha. Duryodhana laughed out loud – and the contempt in that laugh made my face flush. son of Vaayu. The most powerful in the world today is my father. Arjuna. son of Indra.’ ‘Vaayu. son of Vaayu. the god of wind. when he was younger. the son of Yama. ‘Yudhistira. I too will get that strength. ‘Jarasandha is strong. that they were . can crumble mountains and whip the sea into fury with his strength. did the Ashwinis come to your stepmother Madri’s bedchamber together? It’s a nice trick – a trip into the forest for a hunt that becomes an extended stay. In time. Not my cousin Balarama of Dwaraka. and the people believe any nonsense that is sung to them. The rishis were pleased. as the full meaning of his words seeped into my mind like little drops of acid. yes. must you inflict these fairy tales on me? Believe what you chose about your mother.’ I said. For one thing he was not yet king.BHIMSEN 38 I thought about that for a bit. But Bheema. then another.

Duryodhana’s sneering face was an indistinct blur. Furious.BHIMSEN 39 adulteresses. Karna. he must not escape. ‘Get the rope. ‘Where is the rope?’ It was the suta putra. I drained my pot and jumped to my feet – and felt the world spin as a wave of nausea hit me. even in that half conscious state. I heard the sound of more voices and much laughter. I tried to push myself up. determined to give him a thrashing he would never forget. believing your mother’s silly stories about who your father is. and realized I was helpless. but my limbs wouldn’t move. his words seemed to come from somewhere far away. Indistinctly. that my limbs wouldn’t move. I heard a voice louder than the rest. And then. and fell. I tried to reach out with my hands and break my fall. This time. today!’ . He dies.’ I took a step towards him. lost my balance. ‘Fat fool.. I hit the ground hard.. and felt a sharp pain as my cheek smashed against a stone.

.BHIMSEN 40 Episode 10 It was pain like I had never felt before. felt with my foot to see where it was sharpest. I first tried my strength against the rope binding my wrist. hard. and it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. water rushed in. As I struggled. I tried to swim. to get back to shore. my urgency increasing as the pain in my chest mounted. but it was tied too tight. and saw something. so I kicked out hard at the ground. a coral perhaps. I felt the rope give. Involuntarily. and a sharp pain shoot up my legs as the sharp end of the rock cut deep into the flesh below my ankle. Leaning forward. This is the end. and again. find my cousin and smash his sneering face with my bare hands. and fought to stay upright. Inching forward. pushed myself off. and breathed a swift prayer to Vaayu – but even as I said the words in my mind. just a little. I pressed down again. sticking out of the mud. I peered down at the bed of the river. got that bit between my ankles and pressed down. and paddling with my feet. until suddenly I felt the rope split. I was beginning to feel dizzy. with all my strength… again. I gasped and. and found my hands were tied behind my back and my legs too were tightly bound. I hit bottom. as the breath rushed out of my lungs. a determination to somehow escape. angled up towards the surface. I was jolted into consciousness. There was no time to try and cut the bonds on my arms. I managed to manoeuvre myself onto that rock. and realized I was sinking. I thought. sudden stab of pain as something cut into my bare foot. I stumbled forward. and anger replaced panic – and with it. the memory of Duryodhana’s taunts came back to me. and realized I couldn’t hold my breath for much longer. and felt a sharp.

I flipped over so I was lying flat on my back. I walked slowly forward through the water. and yelled in pain as my toes crashed against a rock. and I paddled as hard as I could with my feet. there was just so much I could do – if I paddled too hard. and see how long I could hold my breath. and my legs had begun to cramp. I realized I was near the shore. breathing slowly. there was nothing I could do – with my hands bound. I’d take a deep breath. I couldn’t quite make out where the shore was. I felt with my feet. Once I was breathing easier. Paddling gently with my feet. Crocodiles infested parts of the river – the local singers would say they were people who had been cursed by rishis to live in the Ganga and feed on the flesh of the dead. I loved swimming. and I could feel the last of my breath burning in my lungs. Without my hands to provide balance. and whenever I went to the river for a bath. Gingerly. . Crocodile. that slow crawl through the water. concentrating on just floating on the surface while I got my mental bearings. though—I was unconscious when I was thrown into the water. It felt like hours. I lashed out with both feet. I took a deep breath. That extra effort made me lose my balance. I struggled frantically. sink deep. I kicked out hard with my feet. I was getting tired. not particularly caring which shore I was drifting towards. kicking with my feet to keep my head above water. If one scented the blood from the cut on my ankle and came at me now. and threw up. but with my hands bound I couldn’t climb up out of the water. choked. I let myself float on the slight current. my head went below water and I ended up getting water in my nose and mouth. trying to gain some speed. but I knew I couldn’t just lie there. I was totally helpless. The thought lent an added urgency. I sank under water. stood upright and found the water was only up to my neck. focusing on moving in one direction. My head came up out of the water and my foot touched something hard. In front of me I could see the river bank. avoided the rock. I hadn’t prepared myself. This time was different. I gulped in huge lungfuls of air.BHIMSEN 41 It seemed to last forever. My head burst through the surface. a cough bursting out of me as the water went into my nose. I thought in a panic.

and then the light began moving in my direction. heading in my direction. vanished. and I closed my eyes. and in the distance I saw the flicker of light among the trees. . I thought I could hear the murmur of voices. Abruptly. the fear. reappeared.BHIMSEN 42 It was dusk. I yelled at the top of my voice. The light moved. The long struggle in the water. the light stopped moving. Without thinking if it was friend or foe. I felt a sudden wave of dizziness. wanting only to sleep. I realized someone with a torch was moving through the forest. I called out again – and almost cried in relief as I heard the sound of many feet running through the forest. the moment of sheer panic when I thought a crocodile had found me – it all hit me in a rush.

She prodded below my left ankle with a finger. and I yelled in pain. ‘Who are you?’ Bheema. all with spears or bows in their hands and knives at their belts.BHIMSEN 43 Episode 11 I gradually returned to consciousness. before bringing the ends together in front and knotting them in place. chattering in that guttural language I had never heard before. I heard him say something in a language I did not understand. slightly taller than the others and wearing a headdress embellished with peacock feathers. I was being carried through the forest by two squat. picking up my feet one at a time. walked up to me. A young woman. and realized that sometime during my struggles in the water I had lost my robe. I felt cold. giggled as she lifted my hips up to slide what felt like a large piece of deerskin under me. A Kuru prince of Hastinapura. The woman squatted at my feet. Son of King Pandu and brother of Yudhishtira and Arjuna. pointing at me and laughing. closely examining them. He nodded and walked away. and struggled to get my bearings. but I was also too tired to care. A young man. Women and children came running out and surrounded us as the two men laid the litter down on the grass in the middle of the clearing. wearing only a deerskin skirt. we arrived abruptly at a very large clearing ringed by small wooden huts. Now I was totally naked. A dozen children crowded around. After what seemed a long time. I must have cut myself badly on that sharp . In front of and beside the litter trotted more men. Some held torches aloft to light the way. muscular men on an improvised litter.

She giggled some more. My body felt stiff and sore.’ I drank. I slept. raised it to my lips and drank – something thick. who couldn’t seem to stop giggling. the same girl. The man who had spoken to me earlier came back and. Drink this. brimming. helped me sit up. two children got up from a corner and ran out of the room. I got up. ran away with my bowl and brought it back. Within moments. When I woke on the third day. I learnt. The tribe called themselves Nagas. You need rest. realizing only then just how hungry I was. He held out a bowl. I found myself inside a hut. Within minutes the same man came back. yelling at the top of their voices. while carefully applying more of that paste to the cut below my ankle. They lived in the forest. pulled the leather robe tight around my waist and walked out of the hut. and all I did the first two days was drink that slushy soup and sleep. slushy liquid. and curled up on the grass. ‘Where am I?’ ‘We can talk later. ‘Who are you?’ I asked. As I struggled to sit up. I drained the bowl. almost icy.BHIMSEN 44 rock or whatever that I had used to slice through the ropes binding my feet. I held out my bowl for more. much better. hunting. like a paste that tasted of meat. It was hot but I gulped it all down. I felt stronger. She rubbed some sort of paste on my feet – it felt cold. bearing a bowl of that thick. . with his arm under my shoulders. tossed it aside. the snake people. and the young man with the headdress was clearly their leader. occasionally going over to the other side in shallow boats to visit other members of their tribe who. I took it from him. When I woke. I felt her washing the soles of my feet and my ankles. were scattered in dozens of little camps on both sides of the river. I fell asleep. I stayed there for eight days. and I wriggled my toes in discomfort. then sleep. fishing.

not counting the time. tired and sweating and mud-stained and wearing only one strip of deer leather around my waist. and they rowed me across to the other bank. the young man explained – in the dark. It was easier. I walked on. you could see the bright eyes of animals from a distance. judge where they were. and began walking in the direction they pointed out. and the next time he attacks.BHIMSEN 45 They hunted with the bow and arrow. . I clambered into a small boat one of them had pulled from under an overhanging tree. I said. On the eighth day I left the Naga camp. They taught me how to move without making a noise. before you have your next meal. through the palace gates. ‘Who did that to you?’ An enemy. exclaiming. past the main palace. even where the forest floor was covered with dried leaves and twigs.’ He didn’t need to convince me – if I had found Duryodhana and that coward Karna in that forest then. The guards came up to me. recognize them by their sounds and by that first glimpse of their eyes. and how to bring down with bow and arrow or spear an animal I couldn’t even really see in the dark. They showed me how to identify the presence of animals. into the courtyard of our own smaller palace. It was a long walk but I was feeling fit again. ‘Find him and kill him. I walked. I would have killed them with my bare hands. how to judge height and distance. asking me questions. and always by night. If you do he becomes doubly strong. even a dangerous animal.’ he said. The Naga chief asked me how I came to be in the river. ‘You can let an animal go free. I got out of the boat. and they had given me dried strips of meat and a leather jug filled with water. you will die. but never let an enemy escape. I began to join in the nightly hunts. saw the towers of Hastinapura palace. and creep up on them without being seen. and through the corridors into my mother’s pavilion. I walked on. Never show mercy – if a man is your enemy. until I found myself on the edge of the forest and on the horizon. seek him out and kill him. Two members of the tribe walked with me to the river.

I read relief. ‘Duryodhana told us that you drank Soma with him that afternoon. and where you were these last few days. You are our strength. Even if anyone asks you. they said. and they will do whatever they can to harm you. saying you wanted to swim. wandering off for days without a word to anyone?’ I looked up. say nothing of what happened to you. Let’s see how they react.BHIMSEN 46 Arjuna and Yudhistira were with her when I walked through the door. ‘Let’s go.’ ‘You will not tell anyone anything!’ mother said. Duryodhana and a few others even joined us when we went looking for you in the forest and along the banks of the river. In her face.’ Yudhishtira told me. What we should do is go to grandfather Bhisma and valiyamma Gandhari and tell them what happened to Bheema. while my brothers and grandfather Bhisma hunted all over for me.’ Yudhishtira said. Bheema. Arjuna. and bent to touch her feet. glanced at the door to make sure no one was within hearing distance. tomorrow you will go as usual for your studies. to the sight of you. and that after a while you wandered off. I sat down at her feet. ‘Where did you disappear. running up to hug me. and act normally. ‘So you have become a big man now. my cousins had pretended they knew nothing.’ I nodded. Our mother’s voice followed us: ‘Be very careful at all times. Gandhari’s children. and told them the story of what had happened to me. Bheema and Arjuna. my children – especially you. ‘We will only get blamed again for starting a quarrel.’ . my child. where were you all these days?!’ Arjuna asked. ‘None of you will talk about this incident outside this room. Be very careful. I walked over to my mother. We paid our respects to mother and walked away to our own rooms. ‘They never saw you after that.’ I learnt that these last few days. command in her tone. It was just what I had expected they would do. brother – let’s go teach Duryodhana and that Karna a lesson they will never forget!’ ‘No.

installed him in a house within the palace gates. became unconscious. I determined to practice even harder with the chariot. He was amusing the little children who had gathered around him with various tricks of archery when grandfather Bheeshma came up. the mace is your weapon. On the third day after my return. I then got lost in the forest. Word of his arrival and of his reputation had spread rapidly. the mahouts told me that Dronacharya had wandered into Hastinapura one evening soon after I disappeared.BHIMSEN 47 Episode 12 Guru Shukracharya was the only one to ask what had happened to me. and princes from neighboring kingdoms were coming to stay in Hastinapura and learn from the master. I had already sensed the air of excitement that morning—Dronacharya was clearly the main teacher. and asked him to teach us princes the arts of war. I had rehearsed various versions of this story. I nodded. he came up as I was practicing chariot warfare and told me to concentrate on the mace instead. That evening in the elephant corral. with a respect I did not feel – and inwardly. “Leave chariots and archery to others who are more capable. Dronacharya. and even thought up some embellishments to satisfy the more curious – but as it turned out. and wandered around for a few days before finding my way back home. Arjuna already seemed to have been installed as the teacher’s pet.” he told me. and when I regained my senses I found myself on the other side. saluted him with respect. It didn’t take me long to realize that Drona was partial. with Shukra and Kripa deferring to him and acting as his assistants. Bheema. everyone was consumed by a new topic of conversation. I told him part of the truth: I fell into the river. And oh yes. the bow and arrow and spear . that he had very definite ideas about how far he wanted each of his students to go.

and then practicing archery for long hours in the courtyard while Drona looked on. though no one knew who that was. If Arjuna was determined to become the greatest archer of all time. Angered by Drona’s contempt.” Next morning. equally adept with all weapons. late in the evening. had begun to worry Arjuna.” It was Aswathama that Arjuna constantly spoke about. Arjuna had one other worry on his mind – a boy of the jungle who everyone said was the best they had ever seen. far better than Karna. the master had refused to teach him directly. bent double with age. I was equally determined to train myself into the best allround warrior. coming slowly towards . which had begun to stretch into weeks at a time. and what skills he is learning?” my brother fretted. even better than some of the acharyas themselves. his secrets. Karna’s absences. “He does not teach me all his arts. One of my attendants told me that though Duryodhana had urged Drona to permit Karna to attend the daily lessons. performing the menial tasks that are part of the gurushishya parampara. The charioteer’s son was no longer a regular at our daily lessons. I was grooming my elephant one evening when one of the mahouts asked me. Though he referred to it only rarely. “I wonder who he is studying from. to Drona’s home to engage in guru sishrusha. citing his low birth as the reason. Arjuna. walking into my room unannounced for one of our periodic chats. Drona spent more time with Arjuna than with any of the other students. had I heard the story? “Late last night some people attacked that Nishada boy Ekalavya as he was sleeping in the forest.BHIMSEN 48 and sword. and the rumor among the palace servants was that he had found some other teacher to learn from. He had developed the habit of going. and whether he is alive or dead. “All his most important secrets are saved for his son Aswathama.” my brother complained one evening. And yet Arjuna was not satisfied. we were practicing under the eyes of our acharyas when I noticed a man. but it was Karna he seemed most perturbed by. and my brother played up to him. Karna had apparently taken to going off on his own. No one knows where he is now.

out of the grounds and back into the forest. disturbed by thoughts of what I had seen and heard that morning. Sukra walked up to where Drona stood. why had he looked as if he was about to faint? . I wandered closer and took a peek at what Drona was holding in his hand – a severed thumb all covered in blood. “He has given you something from his son. like a coward? Or was it Drona himself who had ordered the attack on that Nishada boy. Why had Drona glanced. The man then gave Shukra some kind of package and walked away. He told to say that this is Ekalavya’s guru dakshina. none better.BHIMSEN 49 the grounds from the direction of the forest. I saw him glance quickly towards where Arjuna was practicing his archery.” Drona took a small leaf-wrapped parcel from Sukracharya and opened it. at my brother as soon as he opened the package? I knew. I saw his face turn pale. His tribal marks proclaimed him a Nishada. the extent of my brother’s ambition. The old man was clearly asking something. but that night I tossed and turned. and if so why? Why had our teacher gone pale. I normally fall asleep the minute I close my eyes.” I heard Shukra say. and Shukra kept shaking his head no. the ferocity of his desire to become the greatest archer of all time. guiltily it seemed to me. close to where I was practicing with my mace. “It is the father of Ekalavya. But what lengths was he capable of going to. and a chieftain of some sort. I saw Shukra walking up to him. to attain that dream? Could he have been somehow responsible for this? Could he have had his rival attacked in the middle of the night.

He had grown into a handsome fellow. When our lessons were done. I soon realized that besides being a wizard with horses. polishing his weapons. with one diamond set in the middle and there’s this other gold chain for my waist. Others walked the street every day. we went off by ourselves so I could practice getting into and out of the chariot while he held the horses at a dead run.BHIMSEN 50 Episode 13 Nakula came to my room before I was even fully awake. it is the best silk from Varanasi. announcing the coming spectacle.” He was fizzing with excitement. don’t you think? People should want to look at you. actually it is just a thin band of gold for my hair. Dronacharya had announced a week ago that there would be a grand contest so his students could show off their skills. a nephew of his named Visokan. I have this new crown. and this yellow one over my shoulder. but the trouble was he knew it. It was competition day. messengers had gone out to the nearby kingdoms. this baby brother of mine. at my waist. He was just a few years older than me. beating on their drums. Arjuna and I would laugh over the way he often posed in the courtyard. I didn’t see Arjuna all week – he was off somewhere. it was frantic activity – workers were busy day and night building pavilions for the kings and queens and other important guests. see. he was a brilliant strategist. just standing there so the maids could get a good look at him. doing nothing much. The old mahout had found me a personal charioteer. From then on. but with the reins in hand he was a master. adept at all aspects of war craft. “I thought of wearing this blue robe. putting a sharper edge on his arrows. not your jewelery and clothes. and galleries for the public. one hand on hip. This suited me just fine—I grew to trust him to do . no?” I yawned. practicing. inviting their rulers for the show. “Oh and look. That should be enough.

over two dozen kings had turned up for the show. took his place at the center of the ground. and went through his skills. with Ashwathama a pace behind him. . Kripa. “When we go to get you a bride. I will sit on the right side. through the enormous arched gate that had been specially erected by the master woodworkers.” I didn’t spend much thought on what I was going to perform at the competition. ‘That is how you go to war. and partly because I trusted Visokan to work all that out for me. that uncle Dhritarashtra and valiyamma Gandhari had decided to come for the show and had already taken their seats. and you will stand on the left. and found my bow and arrows and maces all shining bright. partly because I couldn’t really be bothered. and my mother sitting beside valiyamma on a lower throne. Drona began calling out names. He was waiting with my chariot when I walked out into the courtyard. and the two big brass drums set on either side of the ground thudded out a compulsive beat. in his usual position just behind them. Drona then walked to the center of the ground. to my surprise. like insisting that I learn to fight standing on the right side of the chariot while he sat to the left – which meant that the hand holding the mace was very close to the chariot’s side and I had to make allowance for that. The competition had begun. We drove towards the site of the contest. I jumped in. The trumpets blared. Judging by the number of chariots near the pavilion.’ he told me. whose job was to serve as my uncle’s eyes and ears. Shukra – were at one of the ground. overseeing the bali. The galleries were already full. the ritual offerings to the gods. I looked over towards the royal enclosure and found. and the student named walked out from the enclosures. and so too were the special pavilions for the important guests. with Sanjaya. Visokan had his own idiosyncrasies. arrayed in the order I liked best. while I concentrated on building strength and speed and skill.BHIMSEN 51 much of the thinking for me. and towards the special pavilion that had been erected for us Pandavas. The acharyas – Drona.

Ever since I returned from the Naga village. As he picked up the pace. I picked up my bow and quiver and. Now. Visokan. Three attendants bearing maces marched behind him. till Visokan brought the chariot to a dead halt in front of the royal pavilion. as the chariot neared the far end of the ground. having signaled that my time had come. twirled the sword behind my back. and assumed the padmasana pose. My cousin stepped out from the Kaurava pavilion and walked towards the center of the ring. ‘Enough. I picked up my sword. louder than before. dropped the sword. I spun around and sent five arrows. Still running. picked up my mace. He seemed annoyed. Satisfied. You are not here to play with bows and arrows. Now!’ The horses sprang forward. jumped out on the right side and. ‘Five arrows in the target. Leaving my seat beside my brothers. I vaulted back into the chariot and. He picked out a mace. I closed my eyes. and sat unmoving till I felt a light touch on my shoulder. and then jumped back into the chariot as Visokan got it moving again. I went over to the chariot. he had taken great care to avoid me. without pause. began driving the horses towards the royal enclosure. finally. Oblivious to the roaring crowd I saluted my mother first. hands on my knees. he called out. rejected it. then in front of me. shut out the din of the drums and trumpets and the constant roaring of the crowd. running flat out beside the chariot. into the open snout of a boar’s head that had been mounted on a pole in the middle of the ground. tried another. then off to the side. . climbed on. one after the other. Take your mace!’ ‘Duryodhana!’. still twirling the sword this time over my head till it was a blur. then the king and queen. tossed it in the air to test weight and balance. he stepped up.’ Visokan said. Dronacharya hurried towards me. I thought there was a tinge of surprise in their applause. jumped out the other side and kept running. ‘Enough of these chariot tricks.BHIMSEN 52 I was in no mood to watch. we were face to face. The crowd roared again.

caught it with his left hand. He controlled the swing and. Dimly I heard the crowd. He swung.BHIMSEN 53 I faced him. I took another step back. letting his mace whistle harmlessly past my side. constantly sliding away from my blows. I parried. he swung again and in mid-swing. and at the last instant. aiming backhanded for my ribs. till I felt myself tiring. that this was a real battle. I glided a half step away from the direction of the swing to disrupt his momentum. Without warning. Each time. the crowd was aware. He swung. then another. In my state of preternatural awareness. he thrust his mace in a straight line from the shoulder. and I thought I could finish it fast—but he proved impossible to pin down. mace whirling overhead and whistling down towards my head. The day before I left the Nagas. The roar of the crowd sounded distant in my ears. he reversed direction again and swung from the other side. It was no secret that there was bad blood between us. . tossed his mace across his body. knocked his mace off line with a light tap of mine. and far more powerful. silent and still. knocked his weapon off line. I angled my body to one side. reversed. even if our acharyas were not. ‘Coward!’ His voice was pitched so only I could hear. he leapt high in the air. I lost all sense of time. brought my own mace up and. ‘Stop running and face me!’ Even as he spoke. I dodged. Again and again. the young chief had challenged me to a fight with blunt wooden sticks. I blocked. reversing the direction of the blow. Again. I read the trick even as he thought of it and parried with ease. with a light push. now roaring non-stop. I took one quick step back. without pause. the sharpened point of its crown aimed straight for my throat. I was taller than him. The pointed crown of the mace flashed in front of my stomach. of place. deflecting them with his stick and forcing me to try harder and harder. and turned my head away. making no effort to engage him. Dronacharya stepped back. a light hum that matched my breath.

scrambling to bring his mace into line to block my blow. Every day we would head off into the forest. Come. . He lost his balance. aiming for his mace and crashing into it with all my strength. ‘Strength is good. aiming for the top of his head.’ he told me. panting. I swung again. It was the first time I had attacked. and it took him by surprise. Without pause. I could sense it in the reduced power of his swing.’ Duryodhana heard my taunt and took another hasty step back. ‘You need to learn patience. even before the arms and shoulders. reversing direction. driving him down into the ground. I bunched my muscles and brought the mace down in a crushing blow. swinging from the waist. At the height of my jump. pushing me to make the chips fly with each blow. I thrust at him and. but you have to learn to use it well. I spun on my heel. from the successive shocks of blows dealt and received. I reversed and swung. Visokan had pushed me into training my wrists. leapt high.BHIMSEN 54 He laughed at me. In his eyes I saw the beginning of doubt. swung for the side of his head. as he fought to control his mace. using my wrists to knock his mace off line – and this time. taking several paces away from me. I had waited a long time for this moment. I took a big stride forward. I parried. and almost lost his grip on the mace.’ Duryodhana was beginning to tire. He staggered back under the impact. my mace whirling over my head. this time aiming for his ribs. Not cowardly tricks with poisoned wine. He staggered. I’ve waited a long time for this. The trick to fighting with a mace is in the wrists—they are the first to weaken. I smiled. ‘This is war. I landed on my feet and immediately. he would give me a mace in each hand. one hand raised to dash the sweat out of his eyes. even as he tried to defend. to pick the right time to use your strength. again targeting his mace. He swung. in the longer time he took to recover between each blow. of fear. and make me crash them over and over against a giant tree. He stepped back. He bent backward and managed to bring his mace up in defense. but the blow knocked him off his feet. whirled my mace and crashed it into his just when it was at the farthest extent of its back swing. his mace in a defensive line.

It is not war! Have you lost your mind?!’ With one glance at my cousin. Watch!’ . laughing. who was still cowering behind Kripa. shielding him from what would have been a killing blow. I hadn’t seen them come up. I turned on my heel and walked towards our pavilion. As I climbed up the tiers to my place beside my brothers. I had seen nothing except Duryodhana’s sneering face. ‘The old Brahmin made a mistake. he gave me a quick hug. ‘This is a friendly contest. Arjuna said.. ‘And now it’s my turn. ‘Enough!’ roared Drona. Arjuna came skipping down. my father.BHIMSEN 55 Ashwathama stepped between us. heard nothing except the voice that had mortally insulted my mother.. As he passed me. his crossed hands blocking my swing even as Kripa stepped in front of Duryodhana. didn’t he?!’.

The guru strode out into the middle of the ground and dramatically raised his hands overhead to still the roar of the crowd and the blare of conches and drums before making his announcement. sending a stream of arrows whistling over the heads of the crowd and into the far distance. Arjuna!’ . competing with the flourish of trumpets as Arjuna took his place in the center of the ring after paying formal obeisance to Drona to the two other acharyas. not Arjuna’s. he sent a dozen arrows into its mouth. with his left. ‘Enough of these childish tricks. spinning around to face the boar’s head that was the main target. my younger brother certainly looked the part as he strode across the ground towards his guru. My brother knew how to put on a show. He first demonstrated the power in his arms and shoulders. firing arrows in such swift succession it seemed as if he had drawn one continuous line from his bow to the target. Arjuna walked calmly over to the farthest end of the ground and. wearing a breastplate studded with golden stars and arm guards of gold plate studded with hundreds of tiny diamonds. Without pause. around us. ‘Here he comes. my favorite disciple. Replenishing his quiver. the one dearer to me than my own son – Arjuna!’ Clad in a blood red silk robe anchored at the waist by a yellow sash. Every eye was on him. he then put on a show of speed. young women in the stands screamed his name at the top of their voices. Seemingly oblivious to the continuous cheering of the crowd. fired off another dozen arrows into the target. The successive arrows squeezing into that narrow space struck sparks off each other till it seemed the boar’s mouth was on fire. he switched hands and.BHIMSEN 56 Episode 14 It was almost as if it was Drona’s moment.

his eyes on the ground. for the first time I saw fear on his face. ‘Kill him. cheering. as it fell. resplendent in golden armor that covered him from head to foot. a collective gasp went up from the crowd as they came whistling back to earth and formed a swastika at his feet. . Karna was missing from the Kaurava camp. what skills he is mastering. Dushasana and a dozen other Kauravas had come running up. Karna strode into the arena. He had turned pale. a great wave of sound that washed over Arjuna as he stood there seemingly stunned. who he is learning from. strong voice cut through the roar of the crowd. For several weeks now. Firing as he walked and without seeming to aim. Arjuna. refilling his quiver. met it with another arrow and another. high above our heads. ‘Meet me in single combat. prepared for combat. ‘I wonder where he is. they surrounded Karna. he shot a stream of arrows high into the air. every head turned to the far entrance to the stadium. often enough to exasperate me. ‘Who gave that suta putra permission to contest?!’ Duryodhana. calm and composed. Beside me.’ Karna shrugged free of the Kaurava embrace and. He shot a golden arrow high into the air and. The crowd roared its appreciation. cutting them all down. applauding him. he sent a string of arrows at the target that sliced through the ones Arjuna had just fired. right here. embracing him. As the crowd fell suddenly silent. My brother seemed to have shaken off his fear and stood there. no mercy. I’ll take care of the others. Yudhishtira muttered in disgust. Seeking its source.’ he mused. Arjuna was more than usually perturbed. awaiting his rival. Swaying back at the waist. I jumped down from the stands and ran towards my brother. firing so rapidly the golden arrow danced in the air.’ I told him. right now!’ Sensing trouble.BHIMSEN 57 The clear. ‘He deserves no pity. ‘Enough of these fairground tricks!’ Karna’s voice sliced through the crescendo of applause. Now there he stood.

‘Who are you?’ Karna glared at the acharya.’ Raising his voice.’ ‘Choose me!’ I spoke directly to Karna. ‘I have a few scores to settle. ’Kshatriya dharma also says the parentage of heroes is immaterial. Shukra. ‘He came here uninvited. and Drona’s son Ashwathama. At Duryodhana’s direction.’ Kripacharya stepped into the space between us. ‘Where are the pandits.’ he said. hands held out for alms. Where are they now?’ An old priest and his son came scurrying up. . ‘Ask him if any son of Kunti will do. ‘In kshatriya dharma. Kripa. the priests?’ he roared. Drona. Duryodhana took the circlet of gold from his own head. Duryodhana stalked forward. with him were the acharyas. shuffled across the ground and came towards us.’ he said. king of Anga. and put it on Karna’s. To the chant of vedic mantras. I hereby gift him the kingdom of Anga that I received from my father. ‘This is Arjuna – the third son of King Pandu and Queen Kunti. ‘This will do for now – we will hold a more formal coronation with all due celebration later.’ I told them.’ Arjuna interrupted. From the middle of the crowd an old man in ragged attire. ‘What. my friend Karna is a king. pointing at my brother. Duryodhana said: ‘This is Karna. ‘Your choice of weapons….BHIMSEN 58 I saw grandfather Bhisma hurrying towards us. Who dares question his right to combat now?!’ Just then. State your name and your parentage. the priest poured the water over Karna’s head. Dushasana raced away and came hurrying back with three pots of water.’ ‘No. single combat is between equals. Even as Karna hesitated. brother – he is mine. Turning to Kripa. now I’ll send him where he deserves to go. bent double with age. Duryodhana announced: ‘From this moment on. prince of Hastinapur. not a single one here? When you have no need of them they are forever at your heels. I became aware of a disturbance in one of the stands.’ Kripa was inexorable.

a flourish of trumpets broke out. to end it. Bheema. walked him back towards the pavilion.’ Shaking with anger. I saw Drona signaling towards the stands and. . which is all you deserve. ‘Where is my son? Is he hurt?’ I saw Karna put his bow down and run over to the old man. the words of the Naga chieftain came back to me: It is when you sympathize with an enemy that you are weakest. ‘So this is the father of the great king of Anga! Put down that bow. we had missed a chance to end this once for all. the light was still good. ‘Father?! You here…?!’ So this was the charioteer Adhirathan. And despite myself. who had feared for his son’s life and was now running his hands over his face and body. I felt a surge of pity – for the old man. and stop pretending to be a kshatriya. The sun was still a long way above the horizon. I laughed out loud. your dharma is to finish him. It seemed to me that thanks to the acharyas. towards the stands. I’ll give you a job in our stables. in response. I thought. I stood there for a bit. bending to touch his feet.’ Drona announced.BHIMSEN 59 ‘Where is my Karna?’ I heard him say as he drew closer. and with an arm around my brother’s shoulders. and for Karna who stood there in the embrace of his father while the contemptuous sniggers of the crowd washed over him. ‘The competition has ended. Pity was short-lived. pushing us back. Just as no one asked how the impotent Pandu became the father of five sons. Karna. most vulnerable. when your foe is down. ‘No one questions the origins of heroes and rivers. either!’ I rushed at him. watching as Adhiratha leaned on Karna’s arm and walked back. Duryodhana stalked up to me. you who were born to hold the whip! Duryodhana gave you a crown you do not merit – me. Ashwatama and Sukracharya got between us. slowly and painfully.

heading towards a rock that jutted out over the water. but no answers came – not even the light breeze that invariably came to stroke away my fatigue each evening. didn’t you notice?” Visokan had driven the chariot up to where I stood in the middle of the ground. cold sky. Around us. for the second time. Perched on it. I looked around and up at the clear. alone with my thoughts. my feet dangling just above the gently drifting waters. people were climbing down from the stands and making their way out of the arena. Shall I drive there now?” “No – take me to the river. “What?! When?” “When Arjuna and Karna were preparing to do battle. and chosen not to vent their anger on him? Why was he still alive? I sat there for a long time.” I glanced across at the royal enclosure. Where were they. affectionate father. “They took her back to the palace. My father. their excited chatter an indistinct buzz in the evening air. with the voice of thunder and with lightning bolts for fingernails? And Yamadharma. about our parentage.” I walked slowly along the banks of the Ganga. There was no sign of a breeze. and found it empty. no clouds. and which I always imagined was the calming touch of a gentle. these supposed parents of ours? Where was Vaayu and the seven storms he held on his leash? Where was Arjuna’s father Indra. not a hint of thunder and lightning. . had they listened to Duryodhana’s taunts about our mother.BHIMSEN 60 Episode 15 “Your mother had fainted. the god of wisdom and of death? Why had they all forsaken us? Why.



Back at the gates of the palace, I hopped out of my chariot and walked towards my rooms, Visokan trailing after me. As the maids stripped off my robes and ornaments and rubbed me down with wet, perfumedrenched clothes, Visokan said, “Don’t brood so much about today, don’t let it upset you. In the end, nobody won – but nobody lost, either.” “Send me alcohol. Lots of it. Good Sura.” He nodded and walked away. The maids came back with heaping platters of food. I gestured to them to go away – for once, I was in no mood to eat. The gentle tinkle of anklets woke me from my reverie. I saw a young maid, one I had never seen before, walking into the room carrying four covered earthen pots on a silver salver. She placed the pots on the ground near me, smiled, and walked away. She was very young, this girl, and clad in just a thin robe tied at her waist. Silver anklets twinkled on her feet, and her hips swayed in time to the tinkling of the bells. I reached for a pot of Sura and, pulling away the cloth covering it, raised it to my lips and drank deep, savoring the slightly sour, harsh tang. The room began to feel stuffy; sweat was pouring down my face, my body. I got up and walked out of my room, and along the corridor. As I passed Yudhishtira’s room, I heard the faint murmur of my brother’s voice from within. He must have summoned a maid to the room for the night, I thought, but just as I was about to walk on I heard the voice of another man, speaking very softly. I knocked, pushed the door open, and walked in. Yudhishtira and cheriachchan [father’s younger brother] Vidura were seated cross-legged on the floor, talking. “Sorry,” I said, and turned to go. “No, no, my child, we were just remembering old stories, come, sit,” cheriachchan said as he got up. “I was just about to leave, anyway – it’s time for bed.” “How’s mother? What happened to her?”, I asked, as cheriachchan walked out of the room.



“She’s okay, don’t worry – she fainted, that’s all. It must have been the heat, or maybe she was worried for Arjuna, when that suta putra challenged him. I went to her room sometime back, but her maid told me she was sleeping. Let her rest, it’s good for her.” We sat in silence for a bit, each lost in our own thoughts. My brother pulled a silver tray towards him, picked up a little silk sack and opened it. Out rolled four ivory dice sticks. “Come, let’s play.” “I don’t know how,” I said, not adding that I wasn’t in the least bit interested in such silly games. “Oh, it’s simple. See, the dice have spots on it – one, two, three, four. The play is about rolling them to get the numbers you need. The calculation is based on dividing by four. Four and eight are the perfect throws,” he said, and began to explain how gains and losses are calculated. I sat there, letting his words drone on in my ears while my own mind wandered far away. “Come, let’s play – you start.” Mechanically, I rolled the dice, and he called the throw. “Now watch. There, eight – see?!” We threw in turn, my brother keeping score. “Ha ha… you lost!” I sat there, staring at this elder brother of mine, wondering how on a day like this he could be so absurdly content with such childish games, petty victories. “Cheriachchan was advising me that I should go about among the people of the city, meet them, let them get to know and like me,” he said, idly tossing the dice with his left hand. “He said I should visit neighboring kingdoms, make friends, build alliances. The people should want me to be crowned yuvaraj, the call should come from them, he was telling me just now.” I nodded. “That makes sense. They say he is very wise, cheriachchan is. Are you going to do as he suggests?” “Hmmmm yes, I’ve been thinking of what to do and how best to do it.” We rolled the dice again, in turn. Again, he claimed the win, laughing, very pleased with himself. “The trick is in the wrists, in the way you



flick the dice out of your palm to make them fall the way you want them to. I’ll send you a nice new set to practice with, so we can play in the evenings.” I shrugged, wished him good night and walked out of the room. Out in the corridor, the stone lamps were guttering as the oil ran out. I walked down the steps and out into the garden. The two palaces, ours and theirs, were very quiet; there were no lights showing from any of the rooms. I wandered over to a stone bench deep in the shadows and lay down, feeling the cold of the stone against the sweat on my back as I stared up at the clear, cloudless sky. A soft footfall nearby startled me out of my doze. I jumped up and peered into the surrounding darkness, just as she walked out from among the bushes and came towards me. It was the same maid who had brought me the alcohol. She had taken off her anklets; her footsteps were silent as she shimmied towards me out of the darkness. “What is your name?” She murmured something that escapes my memory now, and came even closer. Looking up into my face, she pulled the robe free from around her waist and let it drop to the ground. With one hand on my shoulder she pushed me back onto the bench; taking my hand in hers, she guided it over her breasts, over the delicate curve of waist and the slight swell of her belly. Her skin felt smooth to the touch and warm, and soft, softer than the silk of my robes. She leaned in closer, her breath whistling against my ear as her hand, and mine, dipped lower. I felt the rasp of thick, curly hair under my fingertips, then a sudden hot wetness. I sat there passive, unmoved, my hand inert under hers. Abruptly, she stepped back, and stared at me for a long moment. Bending to pick up her robe, not even pausing to drape it around her waist, she walked away into the darkness. I watched the swing of her hips and the gleam of moonlight on her back and thighs until the darkness swallowed her up.



I felt a sudden surge of anger. Had Pandu, king of Hastinapura, passed on his impotence to me? Was I, for all my size and my muscles, doomed to go through life limp, inert, a figure of fun for the women to whisper about and to laugh at? Back in my room, I grabbed the one remaining pot of Sura and, without pause for breath, gulped it all down. Ignoring the bed of soft khusa grass my attendants had made up for me, I stretched out on the cold stone floor. As my eyelids closed under the weight of fatigue and alcohol combined, Visokan’s words drummed around in my head like a mantra: Nobody won. Nobody lost. [And that ends what I’ll loosely call the first chapter, or book if you will: The coming of age of the Pandavas and the Kauravas.]



Episode 16

I poked around among the ploughs and sickles and other agricultural implements, checked out the packets of herbs guaranteed to cure all sorts of illnesses and, bored out of my wits, walked out of the little stall and into the blistering heat of Varanavath. Dry red post-harvest earth stretched all the way to the hills that bounded our horizon on one side, and to the line of trees on the other. In the immediate vicinity, a few stalls similar to the one I had just left lined either side of the footpath. Off in one corner stood a few middleaged, tired looking elephants that, I was told, would take part in a race the next day. The celebrated prostitutes from the kingdom of Madra waited for custom outside their little thatch sheds, somewhat removed from the stalls of the traders. I had heard much about them, mostly about their infinite capacity for alcohol and their foul tongue. They had a certain coarse, hard beauty that was appealing in its own earthy way, but ever since that midnight meeting with the maid, I had steered clear of testing my sexual ability. I made my way back to the little pandal that had been set up at one end of the square, and saw that Yudhishitira was still playing the role of public benefactor that had begun early in the afternoon, shortly after we arrived. He stood on the dais, elevated above the heads of the long line of people, and doled out alms with a generous hand – grain and gold to the Brahmins; grain and cloth for everyone else. “Give generously,” valiyachchan Dhritarashtra had told us before we left. “I have sent men ahead with cartloads of grain and gold and cloth; don’t stint when it comes to giving alms.” I stood off to one side, watching my brother do what he was so good at. As each person stepped to the head of the line my brother smiled, spoke to him or her, asked some question, and handed over the appropriate amount of alms. He had been doing this for over an hour now, and still the line of people who had come from the surrounding villages to get a glimpse of the Pandavas stretched out in front of him.



I sat under the scant shade of a tree and, filled with meat and a jug of Soma, the cheap country alcohol that was freely available in the stalls, I dozed. “Wake up!” Arjuna shook my shoulder. “The others have all gone off to the lodge.” Dusk was falling. The pandal was empty; the people had wandered off towards the stalls and to the vendors lining both sides of the path, selling cows and goats and trinkets. We pushed through the crowd and walked away towards the line of trees in the distance. From the outside, the hunting lodge at the edge of the forest looked beautiful, the wood brand new and highly polished. It was a onestorey structure, reasonably large by the standards of a hunting lodge. Valiyachchan Dhritarashtra had told us he was sending people in advance to tear down the existing lodge and build a new one just for us. Arjuna and I walked in. The place smelt overpoweringly of new wood, and some gummy substance, like lac or some such that I couldn’t quite identify. As I walked through the doors and stood in the middle of the main quadrangle I felt my nerves tighten, the hair on the back of my neck prickle with a premonition of some hidden danger. “You are imagining things,” Arjuna told me. “Anyway, we are five of us, we have our weapons, what do we have to fear?” Mother and Yudhishtira were in the inner courtyard, talking quietly. As we walked over to them, Nakula and Sahadeva wandered in from outside. “What are we doing here?” Nakula voiced the thought that was in my mind as well. “This place is boring; there’s nothing here for us to do. Let’s go back to Hastinapura tonight.” Mother glanced swiftly across at where Purochana, the servitor the king had sent with us to cater to our needs, was carrying meat and vegetables into the kitchen for our meal. “No, my child, King Dhritarashtra took so much pains to organize this trip for our pleasure – to leave now will be to insult him. Let’s spend a few days here and enjoy the fair.”



Nakula looked as if he was about to say something more, but mother glared at him, and he subsided. “I’ll be back in an hour to prepare and serve dinner,” Purochana told mother as he walked out of the lodge. “Nakula is right, mother – let’s go back,” Yudhishtira said, as soon as Purochana left. “How can exiles go back, child?” Mother smiled. We looked at each other, puzzled. “You were the one who kept saying we should go to Varanavatha, son – didn’t you realize that was exactly what your uncle wanted? What is the use of all your learning if you cannot read people and realize what they are doing to you?” For weeks, Dhritarashtra and Sakuni and some of the other Kauravas had talked of nothing else but the Varanavatha fair. It was, they said, something that had to be experienced at least once in a lifetime – a glittering affair full of all kinds of brilliant amusements. My brother had fallen under their spell and insisted that we go. “You were getting too popular, my son. The Kauravas couldn’t afford that, and they couldn’t let the people think they had chased you away either – so they talked to you about this fair and tempted you into going. Now they have gotten what they wanted.” “But...” Yudhishtira was clearly upset at mother for questioning his wisdom. “Mother, look how much pains uncle Dhritarashtra has taken for our comfort. He had this lodge rebuilt, he sent dozens of cartloads of grain and cloth and gold so we could give alms liberally...” “Yes, and he has gotten you out of the palace, he and his sons now control the treasury and the army—a cartload of gold and a few cartloads of grain is a cheap price to pay.” “But what can they do if we go back?” Nakula persisted. “They can’t turn us away, can they?” Mother shook her head in exasperation. “If we try to return, we will never reach the gates of Hastinapura alive – some ‘accident’ will happen to us,” she said and, leaning her head against the wall, lapsed into thought.

beyond the kitchen. slipped it into the crack the ants were vanishing into.” Even as she spoke. And in his usual way he spoke some words of general wisdom. using our knives to explore the cracks in the wooden walls and floor. exactly what he said.” mother’s voice was sharp.” mother said. It couldn’t be opened. it had been sealed fast with brass bands. sniffed at the tip and passed it on to me. lost in her own thoughts. I walked over to the door at the back. Killing us must have been the idea all along— clearly. ghee had been melted and poured on the ground and the flooring laid on top of it. make friends with the people. the mole.” “He said weapons are not made only of iron. We walked around the lodge. bustling into and out of a crack between two planks on the floor. Everything was wood. “Tell me what he said.” Yudhishtira was still sulking. He said there are things to be observed and lessons to be learnt everywhere. tasted it on the tip of the knife. . “He told me we should enjoy ourselves. Now they could burn us to death and then shed tears and pretend it was all a tragic accident. I smelt ghee. “They plan to kill us with fire. much thought had gone into preparing this house of death for us. She seemed abstracted. from everyone – the people of the forest. he said. I felt my anger grow as I thought of the duplicity of the blind king and Shakuni and the others. the walls were packed with lac.BHIMSEN 68 “I saw uncle Vidura talking to you just before we left. her eyes fixed on a long line of ants that trailed across the floor near where she sat. that war is not waged only in the battlefield. impatient. the words he used. “Fire!” she said suddenly. and tested it. I realized what had caused that nameless sense of dread I had felt when I walked into the lodge. learn even from the porcupine. breaking the uncomfortable silence.” Mother looked at him for a long moment. Arjuna pulled out the hunting knife at his belt. nothing much. “What did he tell you?” “Oh.” “He is not the sort of person to say anything without a purpose. and into tempting us to come here of our own free will.

said. I’ll kill him—one blow is all it will take.” she advised.” Mother nodded approval. Purochana is a danger we know—kill him.” . she beckoned me over. as she got up to go to her room. Pausing at the doorway. and we won’t know who the enemy will be. who else is in the Kauravas’ pay. “Don’t do anything rash. who seemed to have recovered his wits.BHIMSEN 69 “When Purochana returns. And start thinking of how to escape from this trap—you have to be the one that leads us to safety. “Keep an eye on Purochana at all times.” “No!" Yudhishtira. “All of you should act absolutely natural— don’t by the slightest sign let Purochana know you’ve sensed the danger. child—especially at night.

he says he has been traveling for a long time and is hungry.. “It is not enough to escape. offered sesame and grains 108 times. Under the pretext of hunting we had looked for paths. The chanting reached a crescendo. who had been intently watching the puja. “This man is a wandering mendicant. the five of us poured ghee onto the fire. he can’t just come in and. to the accompaniment of the priests’ chants. We were supposed to die that night. hiding places. but Yudhishtira pointed out that it was vital to gather as much information as possible so we weren’t caught unprepared. “We have to make it appear that we are dead. caves.” As we neared the lodge. We hadn’t yet figured out how to escape the trap that was set for us. arguing with someone. believe the Pandavas are dead. sighed with relief and nodded at us. to propitiate our ancestors.BHIMSEN 70 Episode 17 We sat around the fire and. and watch to see what happens when the people of Hastinapura.” “This is the home of the Pandavas – it is not seemly to turn away someone who is hungry. I’ve been telling him the Pandavas are in residence. Arjuna and I were walking back to the lodge after spending the morning in the forest.” .” he had said the night we had discovered the trap. we saw Purochana standing in front of the door. the new moon night. at a signal from the chief priest.” mother said. Six days ago. golden-bright and clear and steady. “Let him come in. It was the afternoon of amavasya. Mother.. We were performing a ritual bali. The flames leapt up. We will hide somewhere where no one knows us. a sacrifice. Mother came out from within. and the neighbouring kings.

his voice pitched low.” the mendicant said.BHIMSEN 71 Gathering his tattered robes more tightly around him. “Nothing – act normal. who never went anywhere without his dice.” “What must we do?” Yudhishtira asked. The next five days were excruciatingly slow. so we will leave the last bit undone. the night of the new moon. leading the sacrificial goat after its ritual bath. tried to lure the rest of us into a game.” He got up and walked to one end of the courtyard. and sleep. the mendicant followed mother into the inner courtyard. with his forefinger. Yudhishtira. who didn’t take kindly to serving the wanderer. and reverting to his role of tired wanderer. and be ready. he said “Mark this spot well – the tunnel will open out here. There was little we could do but hunt. eat. Please make all arrangements – and make sure all the Brahmins in the area come here early to help perform the rituals. bowed to Yudhishtira. We can’t dig through the floor because that will give the game away. Indicating a section of the floor. Vidura has ordered us to dig a tunnel that will lead from here to the forest – we are already working on it. you have to pry the floorboards away and dig down for a couple of feet – our men will be waiting. “Tomorrow the princes will perform bali here. .” A young Brahmin boy came up to the bali mandap. but no one was in the mood. It is amavasya. walked off saying he had to procure meat and some other essentials for the night meal. “He said to tell you Purochana has been ordered to set fire to the lodge on the night of the new moon – six days from now. Purochana. As soon as he was out of earshot. and devoured the food set in front of him with a ferocity that spoke of the extent of his hunger. stay alert. “Vidura sent me. limped away towards the forest. he applied a broad tilak on its forehead. On that night. The chief priest dipped his hands in sandal paste and smeared the white fleece. an auspicious time for kshatriyas to propitiate their ancestors. the mendicant’s demeanour changed.” He touched mother’s feet. mother spoke to Purochana. On the afternoon of the fifth day.

there was a small commotion outside the lodge. with one stroke. The chief priest scooped handfuls of haldi and kumkum into the big round bowl of water. one held it tight while the other slowly. “I thought I saw some leather jugs of alcohol in the storeroom – go get it.” Had mother gone mad? Today of all days. drinking wine and gorging on the food and getting increasingly raucous as evening turned into night. who had heard about the morning’s bali and were hopeful of alms.” she told me.BHIMSEN 72 “May the Universe accept your life’s breath!” the priest intoned. bending low to bless her as she prostrated before him. Later that evening. Picking it up by the ears. Yudhishitira went inside to get some grain and cloth. there is food for you. bowed low to the animal still held upright by the two villagers and. in a tone that precluded argument.” he told mother. inviting people into the lodge and lavishing hospitality on them. he threw it into the sacrificial fire. The tribals sat at their ease in the main quadrangle. and turned their backs on the goat. Yudhishtira picked up his sword in both hands. upturned it over the fire. smoke-free. The flames flared high. with a death trap to escape from. he and the other Brahmins stood. We went out. The sacrificial animal is never killed – just ‘silenced’. picked it up in both hands and with a quick turn of the wrists. clear. deliberately strangled it to death. what was she thinking. As one. then suddenly said. wasting time we couldn’t afford to waste? Mother seemed oblivious of the look I gave her. “Silence the animal. “No. and found on our doorstep a tribal woman and her five grown sons. Each of us paid obeisance in turn and handed over alms to the chief priest and a dozen other Brahmins who had come with him. don’t stand out there – come in. . “The gods are pleased with your children. my gestures.” he commanded. Two of the locals caught hold of the goat. severed its head. Mother stared at the tribal family for a long moment.

. no. I looked at her. stunned. nodding at the tribals who were doing their best to drink themselves into a stupor.” . at exactly this moment? “Tonight.” “Hush! The gods are pleased with your bali this morning. And they die. “Mother – not tonight.” mother insisted...” “Exactly. staggering to her feet. they have eaten our food… how can we.” she said. they have been good to us – why else would a woman and five men come to us. Dhritarashtra’s spies come to confirm we are indeed dead. Arjuna and Yudhishtira joined us. And when this lodge is burnt down and tomorrow. what will they find? The bodies of a woman and five grown men – their bodies. what are you thinking of? We have to escape. “No. “Mother! They are our guests. “It is late. we escape..BHIMSEN 73 “We have to go. where can you go now? You can sleep here tonight. and resume your journey tomorrow morning.” the woman said at one point.” I hastily took her aside.

“Come. I grabbed his head in both hands. as he stepped out into the dark. As he fell. Nakula and Sahadeva. broke his neck with one sharp twist and dropped him to the floor. Purochana would later that night have slipped out through the front door. Yudhishtira went first. it is time to leave. “Go – I have something to take care of. the axe broke through. using an axe and their hunting knives. and another bundle with some clothes. had pried open the floorboards at the spot Vidura’s man had indicated to us. burning us to death in our sleep. and I felt absolutely no qualms over what I had done – if all had gone according to plan.BHIMSEN 74 Episode 18 I knocked on the door of the little room next to the kitchen. I went back to where Arjuna. . The door opened and. I slipped a thin strip of metal into the latch of the main door and twisted it tight—it was now impossible to open the door in a hurry. I didn’t have to worry too much about the noise – the tribals were sprawled all over the inner courtyard in a drunken stupor. I handed mother down into their arms. then Nakula and Sahadeva.” I told Arjuna. I brought my fist down on top of his head. and then the two big bundles containing our arms. and set fire to the lodge. It was the first time I was killing a man. Within minutes. stunning him. locked it from the outside. Running into the kitchen.” The voice of uncle Vidura’s man came to us from deep within the tunnel. where Purochana slept. I took the axe from Nakula and began to dig. I grabbed two barrels of oil and carried them back to the inner courtyard.

“When I start to climb. Trying to ignore the screams of the tribals who had woken from their stupor. and climb up in my footsteps. we hurried in single file along the tunnel. Lighting the torch from one of the low-burning lamps. Had we been asleep when Purochana set fire to the lodge.” I told my brother. Then Yudhishtira climbed a few paces. the lac and the ghee. the tunnel ended at a rock wall. Overhead. Nakula. I touched it to the door. and fell back down the hole. I stood in front of mother. I wrapped some cloth tightly around one end and dipped it in the oil in one of the barrels. By now. with a piece of cloth ripped from the robe. When I was ready. with two of uncle Vidura’s people walking ahead to light the way with their torches.and leg-holds. but I could see enough hand. we could see the faint light of the moonless sky. It was then that I fully realized the extent of the Kauravas’ treachery – the flames. were spreading throughout the lodge with incredible speed. Sahadeva and Arjuna followed them up. After what felt like a very long time. it was by sheer blind luck that I tripped on one of the floorboards we had pried loose. Bent almost double. I then twisted a bigger strip of robe into a rope. tied them together. “Wait. and the nearby walls. let me help mother first. and jumped back as flames leapt off the wood. the floor.” It was not a particularly difficult climb—the rock face was steep. torching the walls. and stumbled right into the opening of the tunnel. catch hold of the rope at my waist with one hand. I then splashed the oil on the front door. Our two guides scrambled up the side of the rock. the back door. fueled by the new wood. slipped.BHIMSEN 75 Picking up a long branch I had cut down in the forest that afternoon. . some of which looked like they had been recently cut. I called up to Arjuna to throw down a robe. and tied it tight around my waist. Yudhishtira took the last piece of cloth and used it to tie mother’s legs around my waist. got both her hands around my neck and. I raced across the scalding floor. we wouldn’t have had a chance to escape. I ran around the room. I couldn’t see a thing.

one painful hand and foot hold at a time. I began to climb. Halfway up. ignoring the pain as my fingernails cracked with the effort of holding on to small crevices in the rock. Realizing that the longer I stayed where I was the more tired I’d get. down the side of the rock and through the surrounding trees. we heard the sound of oars. “Wait.” Vidura’s man said.” mother said. we saw the roof cave in. I felt giddy with fatigue.” I called down. and lifted her off my back. I collapsed. wiping the sweat off my eyes. Someone untied mother’s hands and legs.BHIMSEN 76 With the weight of my mother and brother dragging me down. “Someone will be here any minute to pick you up and take you across.” I felt mother’s fingers stroking my face. “Do you have any message for my master?” “Tell him my sons and I send him our gratitude. Many hands grabbed at my shoulders and arms. I gritted my teeth and climbed on. and saw the dim outline of an approaching boat. pulling me over the edge of the rock.” one of our guides said. We hurried away. “I need to catch my breath. and a huge tongue of flame shoot skywards. bending low to touch my mother’s feet. while Nakula ran to get me some water. as we watched. and our prayers. “We need to get away from here quickly. Tell him our journey has begun. Even as he spoke. rushing around in futile efforts to put out the fire. “Look!” We could see a horde of people surrounding the lodge.” . I saw Arjuna helping Yudhishtira over the rim. The lodge was completely engulfed in flames. until we got to the banks of a river.

“There doesn’t seem to be a drop anywhere nearby. another of Vidura’s people. and goatskins filled with water. I realized it was still fresh. and a shrewd sense of the practical. exhausted after a trek that had taken most of the night. we had been told. A rabbit. son. The boatman. My guess was right – it was a fox’s turd. and bent to prod at something that caught my eye. I got up and wandered off into the forest. startled by my approach.” Cheriyachchan Vidura had through his messenger assured us this forest was safe – neither the Kauravas nor the other kings in the region came here for hunting. jumped out of a little burrow at the foot of a tree and scurried away in a rustle of dried leaves.” she told me. I lay down on the dried grass under a tree. arid. almost an ascetic. Except. . of course. and when I poked at it with a stick. when it came to water – there seemed to be no provision for replenishing our supply. Mother was awake too. its thirst evident in the clumps of parched brown grass and masses of dried leaves. I had always thought of uncle as an other-worldly man. a large package of food. wandering around in a world of higher wisdom all his own and disconnected from the material requirements of the real world – but repeatedly through these last few days. voice soft so as not to awake the others. In the boat that ferried us across the river we found bundles of clothes and weapons. “We need water. told us the arms were to replace ours if we had been forced to leave them behind. My brothers had swept the leaves into piles and stretched out on them. but sleep wouldn’t come. A few paces further on I stopped.BHIMSEN 77 Episode 19 The forest was dry. he had proved to have considerable foresight.

The small pond materialized almost out of nowhere. carrying two dry. but he spends most of his time hunting in the Kamyaka forest nearby. as we walked into the little clearing. I attempted to take it from her. and heard from the nearby bushes the sound of a giggle. Clambering out. my hair all smelt of smoke. Recalling the lessons the Nagas had taught me. A lotus leaf seemed like a good idea. “Who are you?” Mother asked. I knelt down and drank deep. in her guttural accent. very much the yuvaraj. but it was water. there had to be water. It was little more than a bulge in a tiny stream flowing through the trees. I eased myself into the refreshingly cold water and let it wash the fatigue from my mind and dirt from my body. I glanced in that direction. speaking in a modified form of Sanskrit that. the water slid off the waxy surface of the leaf and spilled onto the ground. and walked on. She signed for me to wait. felt strange to our ears. I wrung my robe dry and draped it around my waist. Within minutes she was back. She was almost as tall as I was and dark as night. hollowed out gourds which she filled with water from the pond. all the . she had a feather tucked in her hair and a necklace of tiger’s claws strung on a thick leather twist and hung over her bare breasts. and dressed in a deerskin draped at her waist. For ornamentation. I reasoned. I stood there wondering what to do. balanced a gourd on either hip.BHIMSEN 78 Where there are animals around. then looked around for the means to carry water back to my waiting mother. “Hidimbi. Stripping off my robe. my clothes.” “Are you alone?” Yudhishtira. but when I shaped it into a cup and filled it with water I found that within just a few steps.” she said. the accumulated grime of the fire and the trek through the tunnel and the forest had matted on my skin. fresh and pure. but she just shook her head no. “I have a brother. and ran off into the forest.” she said. “I live in this forest. “Mostly. asked. and saw a young girl part the bushes and walk towards me. My body. and nodded at me to walk ahead. I examined the tracks to get a sense of the fox’s direction.

I saw Arjuna practicing with his bow and arrow against a target he had marked out on a tree. Stretching out on the grass in the shade of a tree. suddenly. and ran away into the jungle. she turned and walked back into the forest.” Hidimbi came hurrying back within minutes.” I said. triumphantly holding up the rabbit . Hidimbi looked at mother.” I said.” She put the gourds down on the ground and kneeling on the ground. Reckoning that she must have tripped over a root. A rabbit of some considerable size popped out onto the path in front of me. Just as I was wondering why. “These people who live in the jungle. With a glance in my direction. some of them are known to use magic to do harm – don’t go into the forest alone. touched her forehead to mother’s feet. “You should be very careful. She sprang back to her feet. and especially at night. as Hidimbi went charging down the path and. Nakula and mother were talking quietly under a nearby tree. It was late evening when I woke. I walked over to help. sprawled headlong with her arms at full stretch. walked off into the forest in the opposite direction to the one I had taken that morning. stood stock still for one startled moment. and picking up a short spear and a hunting knife. and offered it to mother. He comes to these parts very rarely. washing it down with the honey.” Yudhishtira told me when she had gone. bemused. We cooked the meat and ate. In the distance. I watched. “There’s a pond a little way away from here. I dozed. we should shift closer to it so we have a handy supply of water.BHIMSEN 79 way up to the Gandamadhana mountains. a brown form streaked past me and raced after the rabbit. and then at me. and then raced off along the leaf-littered forest path.” mother blessed her before picking up one of the gourds and drinking thirstily. “Be well. Yudhishtira and Sahadeva were fast asleep. I could have brought it down with my spear. but didn’t. carrying a sizeable portion of fresh killed deer and a hollowed out bamboo that was filled with fresh honey. “Let me see if I can find something to eat.

one thought kept drumming through my head: My father may have been impotent. She laughed as she turned to face me. entranced by the sheer exuberance of her. her body pressing up against mine. Much later. We moved together down the path and. my nostrils dilating to the heady scent of woman and some kind of animal fat she had rubbed all over her body. .BHIMSEN 80 by both ears. I laughed along. when I came to a little rock. and then the time for thinking was over. sudden and swift. I sensed her deerskin covering come apart under my fingers and slip down to the ground between us. She came against me. but not I. as I lay on forest floor with her weight on me. I perched on it and reached out for her hand.

no one had any idea when exactly the theft had occurred. who was sitting some distance away with his back to a tree. “It must be her. I bent low to examine the tracks. The length of the stride indicated he was tall. someone had come into the camp and. but nobody listens. even enormous. They are mayavis. And then I spotted what I was looking for – fresh footprints that clearly did not belong to any of us. At night. It was late evening. and our small camp was in an uproar. The loudest voice was Yudhishtira’s. It was a man’s. “Brother is not too fond of the girl you found. sacks of grain.BHIMSEN 81 Episode 20 I woke to the sound of considerable confusion. Arjuna had gone into the hut in search of some spare bowstrings and discovered the loss. tended to wander in from the forest.. I knew right from the start we should never have allowed her to come anywhere near us. During the day they approach us like ordinary people. the depth of the impressions seemed to suggest that he was big. that damned girl from the jungle. He told me that at some point. carefully examining the ground.” he said with a half smile. I spotted the usual tracks of deer and smaller animals that. everything.. magicians. and it seemed to me that he had raised his voice another couple of notches when he saw that I was awake and listening. clothes. they use their magic powers to turn invisible and rob us of everything we have. from mother’s hut had robbed us of everything we had stored: the gold. . especially at night. I walked around the camp. these tribals who live in the forest.” I walked up to Arjuna. come into our camps and sniff out our secrets. the spare arms.

upraised hands holding a thick branch he must have just broken off from a tree. and if you die in the attempt. and grabbed a fistful of well-oiled hair. flipped him over onto his back with a twist of my arms and. as she jumped out of the bushes. The branch he had picked was unwieldy – a bit too long and heavy to properly control. very broad-shouldered. He swung. was enormous – very tall. The man who came rushing out of the forest. ducking under the blow and before he could recover. “Don’t – there is danger there!” Dropping my spear. but this time. slipping my bent leg under his knee. As he gathered himself for another blow. with muscles like thick ropes on his arms and shoulders and chest. and I felt the searing pain of a cut. I knew. paradise is assured. I kicked out again. To kill is a kshatriya’s dharma. “Did you take our gold and grain and clothes?” I asked. I pulled. a voice I knew whispered from the nearby bushes. letting go my grip on Hidimbi’s hair. I waited for his next swing and when it came.BHIMSEN 82 I picked up my spear and walked off into the forest in the direction of the pond. but he was very quick – the jagged edge of the branch grazed my chest as I slipped the blow. I jumped back. for those times when warriors meet in exhibition contests. As I neared it. Before he could recover. dropped suddenly to my knees. I reached into the pushes. I kicked out hard with my right foot. and she was afraid. sweeping his legs out from under him. I was ready for it and skipped quickly out of the way. brought his leg down on my thigh with all my force. “Why did you rob us?” I knew it was not her – but I also knew she knew who it was. this time aiming for his ankle. In battle. in contrast to the strength of his upper body and even his thighs. I noticed that his legs. The rules of combat are for show. I grabbed his right foot in both hands. I heard the sound of rushing feet behind us and whirled. He swung the branch from the side. she yelped in pain but I only pulled harder. He stumbled. . were thin. there are no rules except one: kill. driving the ball of my foot into his knee with all my force. the sudden ooze of blood. He crashed to the ground. her head twisted to one side to ease the pain. or be killed.

And the sound of sobbing behind my back only confirmed it. It was over almost before I knew it. I jumped to my feet. what I felt was not the triumphal rush of adrenalin. I reached forward. “He was my brother. trying to get a grip on me.” she said. slipped my right arm under his neck. next to the inert body of my foe. tears streaming down her face. driving my knees into the small of his back. Resting a knee on the small of his back. in the back of my mind I knew who I was battling. a minute. grabbed my right wrist with my left arm and with his neck in a vise. The next moment he was limp. as I got back on my feet. One minute he was thrashing in pain. his unbroken left arm and leg beating the forest floor. cracking his arm with one twist. And yet. I yanked back. bending his body backwards against my knee. I felt deflated – and I knew why. The battle was over – all I had to do was finish it. Even in those brief moments of frenzied battle. I turned round to see Hidimbi kneeling in the dust. Dead. letting my weight drop on him like a stone. gathered myself and fell on top of him. maybe. looking for purchase. or two. I had killed my first enemy in combat – and it had taken mere moments. He was flailing around with his right hand. pulling with an inexorable pressure. She looked up at me.BHIMSEN 83 The sharp crack as his leg broke was almost drowned by his roar of pain. . I grabbed his wrist in my hands and pivoted with my shoulders.

but as my companion.” Hidimbi quickly moved over to where Yudhishtira was standing. who took the form of a sanyasi to kidnap Sita and take her away to his kingdom. “Be very careful of them. with affection and a few jocular comments aimed at me.” I said. I introduced her to Arjuna. “I am desolate we don’t have a home to welcome you to or even a gift to give you. but I knew this: If Hidimban had magical powers he wouldn’t have come at me with a broken branch last .. out of earshot of the rest.” I had heard the stories of the rakshasas of the jungle and their magical accomplishments from the time I was a child – stories of Mareecha. but better times will come. Yudhishtira took me aside. You are the first bride a son of mine is bringing home.. and the maids repeated them with wonder. and knelt before him. Perhaps because I was alert for signs of a reaction.” he said.” mother said. I had no idea how much these stories were based in fact and how much was exaggeration. and my younger brothers greeted her with smiles.. “They are magicians. “She will stay here and serve you as your hand-maid – and my wife. Don’t go to her bed at night – that is when they are most powerful. not as my handmaid. the great rakshasa king with many heads. of Raavana. Stay with me. “Welcome. the first of my daughters. apprehension almost.. I was the only one who caught a momentary flash of surprise. in mother’s eyes. and I will remember. her palm on Hidimbi’s head in benediction. these people of the forest. child. Hidimbi went up to mother and prostrated before her. My brother murmured something that sounded like a blessing. Balladeers sang these stories.BHIMSEN 84 Episode 21 We walked back to camp early next morning. who could assume any form at will and who came in the guise of a golden deer to tempt Sita and lure her husband Ram and his brother Laxman away. Nakula and Sahadeva in turn.

I am not even sure I could battle someone with shape-shifting powers and other magical skills. “He killed anyone he found in these forests. her fingers reaching out to brush.” I told him. “I killed him. I showed Yudhishtira the bundles I had dumped at the edge of the clearing – the gold and grain and clothes and arms that had been stolen from our camp. her voice stained with tears. wading across a small stream and pushing her way deeper until we suddenly came to a cave – nothing more. servants went ahead to clear the way and find the best places to find . looting and killing. “It was her brother Hidimban who did it. It was night when she walked over and sat down beside me. really. than a hollow in a rock. Hidimbi had spent some considerable time sitting beside the body of her brother.” I reached out for her hand. light as a breath. she came closer. nor would I have been able to kill him as easily as I did – in fact. “He was not a good man. the only family I had. “He is dead. A renegade who wanders these parts. “My brother lived most of the time in the Kamyaka forest. the only one I could call my own. as if he expected Hidimban to come rushing out of the forest. and the grief in her heart.” she said. this is where he stored the things he robbed. we forgot about the blood on my hands.” My brother looked at the bundles and quickly glanced all around.BHIMSEN 85 evening. but when he came here. But he was my brother. To give her grief the space it needed. Hidimbi showed me the forest in a way I had never known forests before. For the rest of that night. even rishis and other holy men. we were used to having everything programmed for us: when we went hunting.” Her eyes searched mine. Now I have no one. As princes. trying to come to terms with the fact of my first kill. “We’ll find the things that were taken from your camp here. against the wounds Hidimban had given me with that jagged branch.” Over the next few days and weeks.” she told me. and led me deep into the forest. sobbing softly to herself. She woke me up before dawn. tentatively. my back against a tree.” The previous evening. “You have me. I walked over to the pond and waited there.

“We were waiting for you. an army of cooks and servants went before us to assure every comfort.” mother told me as soon as I walked up to pay my respects. I found the camp in a state of bustle. She showed me delightful little lakes to sport in. my child. “The Kauravas think we are dead. Hidimbi was busy packing strips of meat. With Hidimbi as my guide. She showed me how to find pristine watering holes and the best game and the best grass for beds.. and it will be too risky to take you with us. how to live in the forest for days on end with nothing but a hunting knife. for a man on his own. and little forest streams where the clear-running water was as sweet as the purest honey.” “So where are we going now?” “To this place called Ekachakra. returning to camp only once every few days to make sure all was well.. Mother went up to her. and honey in hollowed out bamboo shoots. Uncle Vidura says we should live there in disguise.” . to brief us on what was going on in Hastinapura and to tell us where we should go next.” Arjuna said. sat on the forest floor beside her. “Apparently it is little more than a village. and I spent most of it with her. “But a few. fruitful.” Arjuna told me uncle Vidura had sent one of his people to us. “It is not that we don’t want you with us. We are going to be disguised as Brahmins. he will find us and send us word when it is time to move on. “She cannot come with us. like Shakuni. I discovered that the forest could be just as delightful. to try and find us. so they have sent their best spies and trackers everywhere. “It is time to leave. On one such visit. It was an idyllic time.” In a corner of the camp. they suspect we might have escaped and are hiding out in the forest.” Yudhishtira said. the blind king even set up a great lament when messengers brought the news that our hunting lodge had burnt down. Hidimbi stopped what she was doing. how to fashion ingenious traps out of branches and roots. are not so sure.” Arjuna said.BHIMSEN 86 game in and the best ponds and rivers to bathe in. and sat there with her eyes fixed on me.

I wanted to stay there. that I would never forget her. I wanted an end to this life I found insufferable – always on the run. not having words to tell this woman who I had taken as my wife and who was now carrying my child in her belly that she had no further place in my life. “She is pregnant. I will clear this place and remove all signs of your having been here. I have nothing to leave behind as a gift for when he is born – but tell him of this grandmother. I wanted to hold him in my arms and play with him and teach him how to hunt and to fight. I tried to tell her I loved her. but the words wouldn’t come. “She told us. “Bless you. fearful always of being discovered. always pretending to be something we were not. . my child. And when he is grown. I stood still in the middle of that clearing. I wanted to reach out and pull her into my arms. Hidimbi knelt at my feet. in the forest. I turned away abruptly and.” Hidimbi told mother. and of his father and uncles. never daring to use our names.” One by one. not daring to look back. and walked away. “Go!” she said. send him to me. he will make you proud. “When you are gone. and how we lived with you in your forest.. I wanted to see the birth of my first child.” I told Arjuna. walked hurriedly away into the forest down the path my mother and brothers had taken. our identities. and found I couldn’t. strapped them to their backs and prepared to leave. not knowing what to do. the first of my grandchildren. not being able to look her in the eye. a wealth of love and longing and grief in her voice. and silently returned to her self-imposed task of packing food and water for our journey. tell him I want to see him. signed to me to follow. “Mother knows.” he said.. my brothers picked up their arms. my brothers followed her. One by one.BHIMSEN 87 Hidimbi nodded. I tried to meet her eyes.” Mother blessed Hidimbi. touched her forehead to my feet. Your first child will be a hero. with this woman who I had learnt to love.

kshatriyas so your imperial ambitions could be fulfilled. And as always it was Yudhishtira. clean kill with nothing to recommend it in terms of strategy and tactics. he explained. or wealthy because I had killed a vaisya? If I had kept them alive instead. mostly food. They called him an asura and invested him with all kinds of magical powers. and she always set aside an extra large portion for me before dividing the balance among my brothers and herself. you sacrificed Brahmins so you could gather to yourself the benefits they had accumulated through their prayers. who could explain it all to us. we would pool everything we had collected. mother overheard the sounds of sorrow from our host’s portion of the house – and that is how the rest of us heard of King Vaitrikeya’s human sacrifice. vaisyas who were sacrificed so you could be blessed with material wealth. Mother was in charge of the sharing.BHIMSEN 88 Episode 22 I could never listen to balladeers sing of my battle against Bakan without feeling the urge to laugh out loud. with reasons for each type of sacrifice. Thus. We had found shelter in the home of a poor Brahmin of Ekachakra. Two days after we had settled in Ekachakra. The sacrificial victims were typically drawn from all sections of society. Each evening. but the fact is that he was nowhere near as dangerous an opponent as Hidimban. who set aside a portion of his own house for our use. What god was going to make me a king just because I sacrificed a kshatriya. the kshatriya would fight for me and . The ritual of human sacrifice lasts for 40 days. but after a point I stopped listening because it all seemed somewhat silly to me. The battle itself was merely a matter of killing someone who needed it – a quick. we spent our mornings going door to door begging for alms. who spends all his time learning the Vedas. and then share it out among the six of us. sudras who were killed as a form of atonement for your own sins… My brother rattled off a long list that included musicians and dancers and thieves and pretty much every category you could think of. he told the rest of us. I thought to myself. In the guise of Brahmins.

said my brother.” Yudhishitira explained and in my mind I thought. but you don’t have faith that he can kill one man?” .” mother said. and a powerful Nishada named Bakan had been given the job of rounding up potential victims from Ekachakra. Anyway. so the story was that Vaitrikeya was conducting a human sacrifice. you plan to use Bheema’s strength to do battle against the Kauravas and their enormous armies. then why would I go to all these elaborate lengths.BHIMSEN 89 thus make me stronger. can take care of itself. “I told them I will send Bheema. only to die at the altar myself? “You will be reborn with all the fruits of the sacrifice. ultimate sacrifice. I’ll fight for it – my next life.” Mother’s response was matter of fact. And now you want to offer him up as a human sacrifice?” “No. And then. the grand sacrifice where the person who was doing the ritual offered himself up as the final. I want to send Bheema to kill Bakan. This seemed even more pointless: if earning divine blessings was the point of any sacrifice. if there is such a thing. the vaisya would earn profits through trade and share it with me and thus make me richer. are you mad?” That Yudhishtira could speak to her in that manner showed just how perturbed he was.. and to end this practice so the people of Ekachakra can live in peace. it is the knowledge of Bheema’s strength that has helped us sleep without care. well. When I think of ways to assert our right to our inheritance. there was the maha bali.. selecting victims from all the villages in his territory. “Mother. One of Bakan’s henchmen had come to the Brahmin’s house that morning with a demand that one member of the family be sent to him next morning. it is my brother’s strength that I build my plans on. who knows? If I want something in this lifetime. “In all these days and nights of extreme danger. What if Bheema is killed? What then?” “My child. “We don’t know who this Bakan is and how powerful he is.

The Nishada lived in a huge cave on the outskirts of the village. the mother. the profits and the possible losses. hunting animals and human beings alike. his instinct was to calculate the pluses and minuses. when I got there.” I nodded.” mother said. even at a distance.” Yudhishtira sighed. each came up with reasons why he or she should be sent. rolls of fat jiggled on his chest. They crowded around me. and that is when I said I’d send my son. “But when their youngest. the young son. “Take Arjuna with you. . but when I set off to meet Bakan next morning. one of them ran off into the cave to inform Bakan that the day’s victim was ready for delivery to Vaitrikeya. my heart went out to them. discussing the plus points of this latest sacrificial victim. constantly wandering through the forests. Mother told us she had overheard the members of the Brahmin’s family debating who should go. against that enormous chest.” Yudhishtira told me late that night.. even his arms and legs. of getting back the throne of Hastinapura. Bakan was much bigger than Hidimban.BHIMSEN 90 “Bheema won’t be defeated. I could be easily smothered in those big arms. all with an eye to fulfilling that ambition of reclaiming his inheritance. His hair was unkempt. “At least we will earn the blessings of these Brahmins. The father. Bakan on the other hand was just one big lump. picked up a small stick and said he would go and kill this monster. That was so typical of my brother – in every situation. and that is a good thing. I decided the only danger was if I let him come close enough to get a grip on me. the reek of stale alcohol was strong. I went alone. I didn’t think he was going to give me much trouble. but he lived a hard life. “Together. his belly.. “There is no one man born who can defeat him in single combat.” Arjuna said. as we were preparing to sleep. the two of you can kill this Bakan. but it was all flesh. I fought back a smile. He was hard and fit. Hidimban may have been smaller. that five year old. When he walked. the daughter. his eyes bloodshot. he could wrap his arms around me and squeeze me to death.” he said. I found three henchmen waiting by the entrance.

I ran around him and. Bad move – such demonstrations were wasted on me. and left him vulnerable to a surprise attack. the two of . the magical rakshasa of Kamyaka. Bakan roared his anger and began slapping his arms against his chest and thighs.” I told those three henchmen of Bakan’s. Anything I had to do towards that end was just fine with me.” I said. I will kill you all. sharp twist. “If I ever see any of you in Ekachakra again. before he could recover his wits. He screamed in pain and rage. I charged.” Such boasts are part of battle strategy. Some years later. It was over. thumping down onto the ground with an enormous thud. it was not the fact of my second kill that weighed on my mind. from the remains strewn around. I had spotted a huge brass vessel on a wooden fire by the entrance to the cave. but I saw no need to adhere to any of those rules here. There is much talk of what is permitted and what is not in combat. and it was like I thought it would be: quick and dirty. lowering my neck and driving my head straight into his midriff. and I could have made a good meal before going back. his hands frantically wiping at the molten ghee that had splashed onto his face and chest. “I killed Hidimban. According to them. nor was it for show – I had a job to do. I guessed they were frying a deer. “Take this fellow’s body and throw it in the forest. we use them to plant doubt in the enemy’s mind. “I am Bheema. This was after all not a battle between social equals. I was cursing myself for having thrown that brass vessel at Bakan – it felt like ages since we had eaten meat. grabbed the brass vessel and hurled it straight at his chest. grabbed his head in my two hands. bunched my muscles and with one sudden. in single combat. Before he knew what I was about.” As I turned to go.BHIMSEN 91 While waiting for him to emerge. a group of Magadhan balladeers came to our palace in Indraprastha and sang of this battle. I spun sideways. broke his neck. and that was to make sure I came out of this alive. He toppled backwards. to put him off balance. The jackals and vultures are still feasting on his body – and now I have come to kill you. who stood there looking at me in shock and fear. Molten ghee bubbled inside.

I thought to myself. Arjuna grinned at me. Nakula and Sahadeva. My mother is so sure of my strength. when I reached home and bent to pay my respects to mother. and our battle devastated the forest for miles around before I finally. I was safe – and my strength was still available for him to make plans around. would mother give them any alms?”. it was all I could do not to laugh out loud. that she doesn’t even worry when she sends me into danger. I understood. The only one to react when I got back home that day was Yudhishtira. He jumped up when he saw me. he asked. . That day. heroically. “If they sang that you threw hot ghee on him and snapped his neck while he was still trying to clear his eyes.BHIMSEN 92 us fought for an entire day with clubs and maces and branches broken off trees. she looked at me with as much casual unconcern as if she had merely asked me to go fetch some water from the well. who didn’t know the details of the fight – I only ever shared details of my battles with Arjuna—looked at me in awe as they heard the song. ran over and hugged me tight. caught him in a wrestling hold and broke his neck.

“We hear that Dhritarashtra’s spies are all over the place. so the danger of discovery is now even more. But the growth remained scanty and after a point. “Don’t go outside. . Ekachakra was an arid piece of land with a cluster of about three dozen small wood-framed homes. Killing Bakan had one good result – the Brahmins in the village vied with one another to share the alms they got with us. There are very few who could have defeated Bakan in single combat. I knew my brother had a point – no sacred thread was ever going to disguise my bulk. There was nothing much to recommend the little village in the first place. Arjuna had taken to disappearing into the forest for long periods each day to practice his archery..P>it was far easier for the others to cope with life in hiding. But it also meant that I was doomed to spend all my time indoors.. all inhabited by Brahmins.” I didn’t know what the fuss about Bakan was all about. hair just wouldn’t grow on my face. Yudhishtira tried to get our landlord interested in games of dice but when that failed.BHIMSEN 93 Episode 23 Life at Ekachakra had palled on me. It used to bother me. All you ever heard was the sound of vedic chanting. Bakan had a fearsome reputation. instead of meat. but I knew only too well how reputations grow on the wings of song. I just gave up. and that was enough to feed the stories of his deeds and of the unknown hero who had killed him in single combat after a titanic struggle. seeking for signs of us.” Yudhishtira warned me. while Nakula and Sahadeva went house to house to collect alms. to the point where I had the maids assiduously oil the few wisps on my chin and the light scattering of hair on my lip. Much though I chafed at the restriction. he engaged him in long discussions on religion and philosophy. and unlike Arjuna and Yudhishtira who had both grown reasonably long beards to hide their features. all you ever ate was mismatched assortments of foods that we had gotten as alms.

if getting it meant a life of running and hiding? It was not the boredom that irked me about life in Ekachakra so much as the cowardice of it all. through alliances with powerful kings. I asked her about it. reduced to begging and without even a roof over our heads. All of them were Brahmins.” mother explained. mother and this Brahmin who was with her lowered their voices so I couldn’t hear anything more. not knowing where I was going. what if I never turned back? What if I kept walking? Two days – that is all it would take for me to get to the Kamyaka forests – and there I would find my Hidimbi. without a kingdom of an army. They would come early in the morning. Here we were. and at some point I thought. and mother was discussing our marriage? One day. but when they saw me..” she said. so you will find none to be your friends – at least not openly. but of late she had begun to get an increasing number of visitors. but mother and her visitors always pitched their voices too low for me to overhear anything. I could hunt and catch fish and sport with her and see the birth of my child – who needed the throne of Hastinapura.. when we were all sitting around talking and I was feeling particularly fed up with our life. just working off my restlessness. I walked for a long time.BHIMSEN 94 Mother never stirred out of the house. I decided I had enough of being cooped up. “I was passing by. I said to no one in particular. and leave very late at night when no one was around. the other day. “You are princes in exile. “Let’s go to Hastinapura. and most of them were people I had never seen anywhere in Ekachakra before. before the village was awake even. let’s challenge the Kauravas to single combat – one by one.” Sahadeva told me once.” “But mother. The people who visit me are uncle Vidura’s spies – through them.” One night. “I heard them say something about marriage. he will let us know when the time and the occasion is right. which king is going to give his daughter to someone who was driven out of his kingdom and is forced to run and hide?” “Wait. “all in good time.” It seemed an odd topic to discuss. we’ll take them on. Under cover of darkness. “The only way to build your strength back is through marriages. I wondered what they talked about. One evening. I slipped out of the house and wandered off into the forest. all who .

” . we wouldn’t get within miles of Hastinapura.’ That is what they would say of me. We need allies before we can come out in the open and take them on. they will send their spies and their soldiers. Patience. Mother shook her head at me like I was an idiot child.. left his family and ran away. Dhritarashtra and our cousins would know they could come after my mother and brothers with ease. I don’t doubt that you and Arjuna can fight the Kauravas—but even the two of you are not good enough to fight an entire kingdom and win. and who was just two days away.” My stock of patience was rapidly running out. and to go find her. Isn’t that what kshatriyas are duty bound to do?” Yudhishtira looked at me like I had gone mad. and I was tempted to give it all up—our dreams and ambitions and plans and patience. even before I could sit down. And once that story spread. I stood there in the middle of the forest. Arjuna and I are enough to settle them all. But what then? ‘Bheema the mighty. the same people who now sang of how I was born to destroy the Kauravas. thinking of that dark-skinned girl who I had abandoned to come and hide in this little village. They were waiting for me.” Yudhishtira said. I turned my back on that remembered idyll and walked back home. “King Drupada has announced the swayamvara of his daughter. “My son. Draupadi. and we will be slaughtered before we even get within sight of the city gates. “Our time has come. the second Pandava.BHIMSEN 95 want to come against us. since I was no longer around to protect them. The closer we get to our kingdom. everything. son. and that is just a matter of time. I longed for the uncomplicated life we used to live. Reluctantly. the more we will find people who know us – and once word spreads that we are alive. impatience on their faces. “Uncle Vidura sent a messenger to us today..

Arjuna and I were sent to the Panchala court as Drona’s envoys. could recognize at a glance. heard us out and then he smiled his kind. it was Visokan I voiced my doubts to in private.” he said. I wondered. As always in those days. Shortly after our contest of skill. but there was an aura of power and majesty about him that we. seated in state in the royal audience chamber. We were given a straightforward message to deliver – Drupada must apologize publicly for insulting the acharya and give up half his kingdom if he wanted to avoid war – and we delivered it with all the unthinking arrogance of our youth. gentle smile. richer and more powerful than ours. He made it sound like it was our duty. young as we were. But while Drona was born a Brahmin. Now the acharya wanted to use his disciples the Pandavas and Kauravas and the Kuru army for his revenge. not just those who have been born in that caste. purity of thought and action and a comprehensive knowledge of the Vedas and the Shastras is the real wealth. and as always he had the answer. somewhat older I thought than King Dhritarashtra. Drupada. We were told that Drona and Drupada were childhood companions and that when Drupada had become king. What does a Brahmin want with wealth and power and a kingdom. Our journey through the Panchala kingdom had already given us the sense that it was larger.” While the Kuru armies readied for battle. and why today he has his eye on the wealth of the Panchalas. . he had insulted Drona and driven him out of the kingdom. Dronacharya had egged us cousins to go to war with King Drupada. He would be satisfied with nothing less than half the Panchala kingdom. he said.BHIMSEN 96 Episode 24 What I remembered most clearly about King Drupada was the gentle smile with which he had greeted our threats of war. he has been brought up and has lived all his life as a kshatriya – and that is why he thinks like one. “True enough if you are talking of pure Brahmins. but I had my doubts. He was middle-aged. “For them.

praised our acharyas and said we couldn’t have found anyone better than Sukra. Knowing Arjuna would be interested. Visokan came to my room with a jug of fine Sura and the story of that meeting. but when we set out.” he smiled. and met King Drupada outside Hastinapura’s walls. Kripa and Drona to teach us the arts of war. I heard from Visokan that the young Panchala prince was already being hailed as peerless in the art of chariot warfare. Maybe it was just my imagination. Please rest—we will talk again this evening. that as a young boy he enjoyed a freedom of behavior that was not possible once he had assumed the crown and had to treat everyone equally. “I have decided to come with you and meet Drona in person. He asked about our studies. He told us that this time. Drona rode out in his chariot. So Arjuna and I rode ahead to alert the acharya. I asked them where he had gone. Next morning. and Drupada was a gracious. We thought he would ride at the head of a sizable army. He too was away. we went to the audience chamber to receive his reply. “Both my sons are away. Drupada had told Drona that no insult was ever intended to him.BHIMSEN 97 “I am desolate that my son Dhristadyumna is away. and it never occurred to me to ask. The feast laid out for us that evening surpassed anything I had known in my life. “He is only slightly younger than you. without directly responding to our threatening message. and found the king waiting for us. the king was accompanied only by half a dozen personal bodyguards in one chariot. You must be tired after your journey.” he said. kindly host.” The maids who attended on me said Dhristadyumna had only left only that morning to study archery. and would have been company. I am too old to entertain young princes. Sikandi. he wouldn’t be visiting the palace and meeting King Dhritarashtra. Dhristadyumna had an elder brother. but they only knew it was someplace far off. One evening some days later. and about a dozen guards to keep an eye on a treasure chest that had been loaded onto another. and I shouldn’t leave the kingdom unattended for too long.” King Drupada told us. He told Drona that he was . Much later. But come – my attendants will show you to your rooms. the maids said. but I thought they did not speak of him with the same joyous affection as Dhristadyumna. They never mentioned a princess.

Drupada told Drona that when he becomes king. but this was apparently too much for him. nothing is lost. Nakula and Sahadeva were too young at the time to know what had passed between Drupada and Drona after the contest of skill. “But. . can neither see nor hear anything. we could end our life in exile and stake a strong claim to our rightful inheritance. Drupada told the acharya – I don’t want to sit down to a meal with a king I might have to declare war on for no fault of his. and had brought some gifts in token of his remorse. How could Visokan possibly have heard every word that was said at that meeting? “You princes are an arrogant lot.” Mother’s voice broke in on my reverie.” said Visokan. “If you fail.BHIMSEN 98 sorry if his old friend felt slighted.” Visokan had this uncanny knack of knowing everything that was going on – but this was too much for me to believe.” he laughed. none of us could sleep for contemplating the immense possibilities that had suddenly opened out before us. and after a while he got so fed up with Drona’s constant demands that he drove him away – that’s all. That night. “King Drupada also told the acharya that if his coming here in person to apologize did not satisfy him. like your horses. “Why did the Panchala king drive Drona out of his kingdom?” he asked me. The two of them had met in the middle of a vast open space outside Hastinapura’s gates. “You think your charioteers. and he insisted on laying claim to half the Panchala kingdom. they went to the same gurukula. Then Drupada became king. he would give his friend half of everything he had. “As children will. then Drupada would return at the head of his army and crush Drona and anyone else who dared take his side.” It was Arjuna who answered. but if you win…” She didn’t need to complete the thought: with the powerful Panchalas allied to us in marriage. “You and Arjuna had gone as envoys – you must know?” “When they were young children. That is why I am not entering Hastinapura now.” “Don’t you know better than to mock your guru?” Yudhishtira had been quiet all this while.” “You must take part in the swayamvara.

but when he did he wouldn’t back down. as I had noticed when we visited the kingdom. His greed was boundless. he had spent a fortune in pujas and yagnas and other observances. I didn’t dream of a dark-skinned woman with . and he came to us?” Yudhishtira subsided into silence. I felt someone sit down beside me. And the Panchalas were a good-looking race anyway. and who he was learning from. Drona asked for more. sutas and other low-born would not be permitted. But then again. even without having set his eyes on the Panchala princess. as I lay there in the dark willing sleep to come.BHIMSEN 99 “What did I say but the truth?” Arjuna rarely spoke out. I had heard that Drupada wanted a daughter so bad.” My brother was clearly smitten.” I wasn’t surprised. If the swayamvara involved a test of skill and if that test was archery. “He said Draupadi’s sweat has the fragrance of the lotus. “No matter how much Drupada gave. Much later that night. he would be the one among us who would compete—but could he win? He didn’t speak about it much. that there is no woman in the world to rival her. “He said something else…” I could sense the smile in my brother’s voice. Not likely. I thought – the Panchalas were kshatriyas. “He said she is beauty incarnate. I wondered if Karna would compete in the swayamvara. Karna was the crowned king of Anga. and kings have no caste – so maybe he could take part after all… At some point that night I finally drifted off to sleep. Wasn’t that why Drupada threw him out of his kingdom. “You should have heard uncle Vidura’s messenger describing Draupadi!” Arjuna’s voice was taut with excitement. but he missed learning under a master—and I knew he fretted about where Karna was. He had practiced assiduously during our time in exile. but Arjuna constantly fretted that he was falling behind in his archery. And for the first time in a long while.

.BHIMSEN 100 large eyes and oiled hair and bare breasts and sweat that smelt only of desire.

emerged the most radiant beauty the world had ever seen. seated on a raised platform at one end of the hall. A group of balladeers. I glanced at Arjuna. a metal fish with a diamond for one eye. and found him totally absorbed in studying an arrangement in the center of the hall. who had come there as aspirants for Draupadi’s hand. . with Duryodhana at their head. some of them old enough to be my father. rotating in the opposite direction.BHIMSEN 101 Episode 25 Drawing premature attention to ourselves was no part of the plan. stretching to the sky in a veritable pillar of flame – and from it. and it seemed to me the spectators were outnumbered by the princes and kings. her skin singed dark by the heat. I scanned the group. spotted Karna in their midst and felt a momentary regret that I was not armed. Hanging from the pillar was a slowly revolving cage and within it. of how the king wanted a daughter and how he held the greatest yagna the world had ever seen. A large group of Kauravas. Clearly. They sang of the hundreds of Brahmins who chanted hymns seeking divine blessings. tending it with Vedic chants and ghee. I looked around the hall. They sang of how King Drupada’s two sons had grown into famed warriors. they sang. the swayamvara was going to involve a test of archery. of the thousands of cattle that were sacrificed. covered by a red silk cloth. At the base of a tall pillar was a large vessel of highly polished brass filled with water. sang songs that told the history of the Panchalas. Next to it. walked in shortly after us and took their places in the front row of suitors. was what from its outline looked like an enormous bow. so we drifted into the great hall of King Drupada’s palace singly and dispersed ourselves amongst the Brahmins who were seated around the ceremonial fire. the sacrificial fire suddenly erupted. And then.

the only topic of conversation was this wonderous daughter of the king. I bid you welcome in her name and mine. All along the route to the palace. in stark contrast to her brother. a waistband of diamond-encrusted gold set off his blood red silk robe. I had never seen Krishna.” He glanced around. dark-skinned. and was unadorned save for a circlet of flowers around her forehead – but that simplicity of attire only seemed to enhance a beauty that was almost other worldly. and a smile. and the resplendent young man who stood there. . I admired the poetic conceit of the balladeers that sought to explain her skin tone as the side effect of her miraculous birth. and how he had spent untold amounts in rituals and sacrifices and alms before finally being blessed with a baby girl. Yet I had no trouble recognizing them – Balarama the powerful and beside him Krishna. they called her. King Drupada ushered them to the place of honor. his chest was covered with a 20-strand gold necklace. and I was a child when I last saw Balarama – he had come to Hastinapura shortly after the death of our father to pay his respects to mother.BHIMSEN 102 Mother had. “I am truly blessed that all of you have come here for my daughter. A circlet of pearls held his curly hair in place. and a collective gasp went up from the assembly. and bowed to them with hands folded in greeting. with no adornment save a peacock feather thrust into his hair. told us how much King Drupada wanted a daughter. during our journey from Ekachakra. Krishnaa. and went rushing up to greet two people who were just entering the hall. he lingered on Arjuna for the space of a heartbeat. smiled in sudden joy. Dhristadyumna – it had to be him – stood there for a moment before stepping aside. tall. I saw Krishna glance around the assembly. slender. All eyes turned on cue to the doorway of the mandap. Showing every mark of respect. A sudden hush fell on the hall. wore only a robe of the sheerest white silk. Draupadi. A hush fell on the assembly as King Drupada strode to the center of the hall. and it seemed to me that as his eyes roamed over where we were seated among the Brahmins. and everyone spoke of her as dark-skinned. He gazed around at the throng of suitors.

The prince staggered and fell. I thought – flirting with her lips. Within moments of the Kalinga prince lifting the bow up. it was a while before I realized that this was no simpering maiden. and a smile – almost mischievous. announced that his sister stood ready to wed any eligible suitor who could win the test of skill. Draupadi stood tall and erect beside her brother. It was then that I understood the nature of the bow. and of the problem. eyes of a brilliant black surveying the assemblage of suitors for her hand. head proudly raised. Laughter welled up from the ranks of the spectators – but none among the assembled suitors so much as smiled. looking only at its reflection in the bowl of water. which merely presented the problem of timing. I had seen bows as long – the Nishadas and the Nagas liked to use bows six feet or more in length. They were realizing the complexity of the task confronting them – and some at least seemed already to have lost heart. I estimated that the bow was a metal tube into which molten metal had been poured – not evenly. I realized I was right—but even so. As I watched. and transferred his grip to the upper end to try and string it. I watched closely as the prince. tried to control the bow which. I hadn’t even begun to guess at the real trick. Dhristadyumna strode into the middle of the hall. but in the bow. and in a voice that carried easily in the hushed assembly. The first to try was the prince of Kalinga. the Kalinga prince managed to wrestle the bow upright. The challenge. Removing the cloth that had covered it. wriggled around in his grasp. But that was finely cured bamboo. As his hand reached for the notch and his grip shifted.BHIMSEN 103 I was as mesmerized as everyone else. to fire an arrow through the bars of the cage and hit the diamond eye of the bird. its weight sagging into him and catching him by surprise. but in such haphazard fashion that the bow’s balance was impossible to fathom. like a living thing. I had figured out that the trick lay not in the target itself. was to string the bow and. he said. the young prince revealed a bow of burnished metal that was easily seven feet long. the bow wriggled in his grasp. a fairly powerful young man. . this was metal. the bow crashing down on top of him.

There was a lull. he slipped the string into the notch on the lower end of the bow and in one swift move. not the bow or the archer. but the bow defeated their best efforts. The vibration of the strung bow made eerie music in the breathless hush that had engulfed the hall. Clearly. Vidarbha Vanga and Kamarupa [a wiki map of epic India here]. looped it over the upper end and pulled it taut.’ He was a mortal enemy who had on more than one occasion been part of plots to kill me – but that didn’t stop me from admiring his air of casual confidence as he strode over to the bow. I watched closely as he gripped it a little lower than the center – an unusual. splay-fingered grip that I guessed was an attempt to gain more control. perhaps more enamored of Draupadi than worried about making fools of themselves. crowned king of Anga. with everyone looking at everyone else and no one prepared to step forward to try his hand.BHIMSEN 104 Princes from Chedi. when I heard the balladeers announce the name of the next contestant: ‘Karna. I saw the muscles of his shoulders and arms bunch and knot as he raised the bow. None of them managed even to string it. gradually brought the wriggling bow under total control. I was attempting to catch Arjuna’s eye and signal to him that his time had come. trapped one end between his toes and. After what seemed an eternity when nothing moved. with little adjustments to his grip. but nothing of that strife showed on his face. Straightening. He raised the bow upright. I noticed Dhristadyumna lean his head down towards his sister. he too had been watching closely and had formed his own ideas about the bow and its challenge. the Panchala prince said in a voice that filled the hall: “Wait! This swayamvara is for kshatriyas only!” . tried their hand in turn. Moving carefully. clearly intent on not disturbing the equilibrium he had gained. he plucked the bow string he had tucked into his waistband. Out of the corner of my eye. and their struggles with the bow only afforded more amusement for the spectators. who seemed to be whispering something.

the Brahmins around me burst into loud cheers. in which hauteur and contempt blended to a nicety. so cruelly. regal and proud. I saw Karna wilt visibly under that gaze. Arjuna had edged around to where I sat. I watched him go and. A tap on my shoulder recalled me to my surroundings. stepped out from their midst and strode into the middle of the hall.” “This is not for me. I saw the Panchala princess. lock eyes with his. face and skin dark from smeared ash. You are the one – and may Indra. “my sister will not accept anyone from a lower caste as her husband. walked past the suddenly silent spectators. Karna spun around and.BHIMSEN 105 Without losing control of the bow. a half-smile on his lips. But. head bowed. “Elder brother says he won’t make the attempt. almost preternaturally calm as he wrestled with the bow.” he said. “The king of Anga is welcome to test his skill – we will admire and applaud if he succeeds. aid your arm.” he whispered.” I saw Karna glance at Draupadi. The great bow crashed to earth. Dhristadyumna seemed not to notice. through the massive double doors and out of the hall. Karna turned to face Dhristadyumna. had come in the way of his ability. felt a twinge of pity for this man whose birth so often.” As a tall young man. for a second time. a killing rage blazed in his eyes. One of their own – or so they thought – was about to attempt a feat kings and princes dare not attempt. . His face. “You are the second – it is your turn. god of gods. was now suffused.

gradually bringing the wriggling bow under total control. Arjuna had worked out how he was going to approach the challenge – and he was clearly intent not just on succeeding but on putting on a show. tied and tightened it at the other. no sound broke the stillness. with one burst of strength. Very gradually. all his senses focussed on the task of controlling the bow. When it stilled.BHIMSEN 106 Episode 26 I had spent hours anticipating this moment. hoisted it onto his shoulder. still using that off-center grip. I scrambled to my feet but even as I rose I heard the sudden thunderclap of cheering and knew I had missed the moment. he bent over the brass bowl. Arjuna was rising to his feet. he brought the bow down off his shoulder. . proving a point. He went down on one knee. He paused. When it finally came. the bow bucked in his hand. For a long moment he stayed thus. he pulled the arrow back as far as he needed it – and then he went totally still. As he began pulling the string back. waited for the bow to stabilize. Inch by agonizing inch. he gently looped the bowstring onto the end of the bow that was resting on his shoulder and. intent on the reflection of the target. he pulled the string back a little bit more and again. grasping the bow with his left hand well below the centre and. It seemed to take an age—an age in which no one moved. Still kneeling. The Brahmins surged around him in frenzied acclamation. His arrow had displaced the diamond eye and pierced the target almost to the feathered notch. Moving very slowly. the bow held low at his side. Some Brahmins seated in front of me jumped up for a better look. notched an arrow to the string and slowly lifted it overhead. in one swift move. I saw very little of it.

from Dhristadyumna’s hands. she went up on tiptoe to garland Arjuna as her husband of choice. face suffused with rage. come on. taking position so I could cover my brother’s back. Moments later. They stepped back.. If I had the time to think about it. I would have expected her to have run away to . An elderly king I couldn’t identify gave them the excuse they were looking for. pried it loose with one huge heave and jumped into the middle of the commotion.” I saw Dhristadyumna make a sign to his senapati. his voice was raised the loudest: “When Karna accepted the challenge you said this contest was for kshatriyas only. Taking the varanamalyam. the ceremonial garland. Sakuni. I needed no second invitation – my bunched fist crashed into his face. It was rapidly developing into a riot. I saw the dawning realization in his eyes.” I roared. there will be war. I grabbed hold of one of the poles holding the mandap up. but I guessed the danger was not over yet. but it was Draupadi who caught my eye. signaling the call to arms. one at a time or all together. I don’t care!” The frustration of all those months and years in hiding boiled up within me.BHIMSEN 107 Draupadi. remonstrating. Pandemonium broke out as the kshatriyas surrounded Drupada and Dhristadyumna. walked up to where he stood. The kshatriyas seemed to be having second thoughts. Duryodhana was in the forefront. sending him flying backwards. I was always convinced that he was behind the cowardly plan to burn us in our beds. “Come on. “All those who refuse to accept the winner can talk to me. As he straightened.. flanked by her father and brother. We will not accept this result – if Draupadi doesn’t repudiate that Brahmin. I was primed to kill. I turned to tell Arjuna it was time to leave. why should we care?” The kshatriyas moved away. muttering among themselves. rushed towards me at the head of some of the Kauravas. “If Drupada wants to throw his daughter away on a Brahmin beggar. there was no time for me to look for more conventional arms. the sound of trumpets reverberated through the hall. Duryodhana had rushed to where Sakuni lay prone. clearing space around us.

“You are Prita’s son Arjuna. excitement in her eyes and in her broad smile as she watched the near-riot around us. “Our people are nearby. As I jumped in behind them.” We laughed. “We are.” Draupadi said. “Don’t worry. Instead. “Don’t worry about the scene here – I’ll take care of this. she continued on a gurgle of laughter: “Brahmins aren’t quite so bloodthirsty—and they don’t usually make war with posts uprooted from a mandap! Your role-playing is not quite as good as your brother’s. quickly. I grabbed the reins and whipped the horses.” Looking at me. “You needn’t be afraid. pulled Draupadi up beside him. and the three of us began walking towards the village. but Draupadi looked doubtful.. pulling up only when we got to the outskirts.” Walking in front to clear the way. princess.” I looked around for my brothers but they were nowhere in sight. we could see the little village of potters where we had sought shelter the previous night.” In the distance. I jumped down from the chariot. who had accompanied us with drawn sword.BHIMSEN 108 the safety of her people or at least. . “We will come back tomorrow. where a chariot stood waiting. to be cowering behind Arjuna. racing the chariot forward and scattering the crowd in front of us.” he said. she stood there between the two of us..” Arjuna said. Pushing the charioteer aside. “I guessed. Arjuna jumped into the chariot and reaching down a hand.. I caught Dhristadyumna’s eye. “Get us a chariot.. I drove at speed through the city.” He stopped in mid sentence and looked doubtfully at me.” I told Dhristadyumna. I rushed Draupadi and Arjuna out of the palace and into the courtyard. a few arrows came whistling towards us from the gathering crowd outside. I told the charioteer to return to the palace. “Go.” my brother told her. Arjuna followed.

We burst out laughing. “The Panchala princess. I knocked. raising Draupadi to her feet and leading her indoors. Even if it was said unknowingly. my brother . We had been through so much. “The Pandavas will hear and they will come. “We knew you were alive and that you would come.” I said. even the Kauravas were not fools enough to believe that!” she laughed. a mother’s command is sacrosanct.” “The Pandavas? But I heard they died in a fire in Varanavata or somewhere?” I tried to keep the pretence going. he told me. let’s play a trick on mother. Just then Yudhishtira. my child. saying I should pray you were alive because he thought only Arjuna could pass the test—if he didn’t come. the five of us. “God bless you. we had survived so much and finally. come out –see what alms we got today!” I heard her footsteps coming towards the door. just when we should be celebrating the imminent end of our life in exile. “How could you be so stupid to play such a prank?” Yudhishtira said to me. I couldn’t resist sharing the joke.” Draupadi said as we walked abreast down the lane. and without knowing what it was. “Now we have to jointly marry her – there is no other way out. Nakula and Sahadeva came hurrying up. she said we should all share it!” Nakula and Sahadeva collapsed in laughter. It cannot be broken – that is what the shastras say.” I gaped at him in total shock. I would have to remain unwed for life!” We reached the house where we had taken shelter the previous night. “Guess what? We told mother we had gotten some alms.” Draupadi went down on her knees in obeisance.” Arjuna said. share it among you. Welcome. our hour was at hand. “Mother. And now. “Whatever it is.BHIMSEN 109 “When my father was preparing for my swayamvara. mother.” mother said. he said he would spread the word far and wide.” she said as she opened the door. “Wait. “Oh. “This is what we got today. My brother was teasing me.

. “Bheema. Wait!” I kept walking. In a blind fury. as I could. wait!” Yudhishtira’s voice followed me. “Balarama and Krishna are coming here. from him. I walked away. wanting to get as far away from there. when the fact was that he wanted Draupadi himself and thought this was his chance. I didn’t trust myself at that moment.BHIMSEN 110 produces the most ridiculous argument I had ever heard: A mother’s command! The shastras! Excuses to hide behind.

That’s it – according to kshatriya custom. “He should marry her. “Arjuna is lucky.” I remained silent. What is there to debate and discuss?” My brother chose to ignore that point. I never thought dark. I sat on the steps of one of the many stone tanks that punctuated the cattle sheds and let my mind drift. it is not even luck – he really deserves Draupadi. “What a stupid. “Balaram has gone back to Dwaraka. and settled on the steps beside me.” . isn’t that the right thing to do?” I looked at him. almost black. pointless question! In the swayamvar mandap.BHIMSEN 111 Episode 27 The wealth of the Panchalas lay spread out before me: cattle-sheds as far as the eye could reach. with thousands of cows and goats and hundreds of workers tending to their needs. I thought it might be Arjuna. skin could be so attractive till I saw her. “To tell you the truth. but it was my elder brother who walked up. We sat there for a long time. trying to distance myself from my own rage. no one else could have beaten that bow and won her. That is always his way— whenever I produced some inconvenient argument. he would pretend he hadn’t heard. they are married already. not talking.” Yudhishtira said.” “Hmmm?” I was in no mood for small talk. He sighed. Draupadi garlanded our brother. Krishna and Arjuna have gone out looking for some good Sura to celebrate with. I sensed someone coming up behind me. Actually. She chose him as her husband. “It is just that mother is upset that her words will go in vain.

or to consult them before deciding their fate. and talk till you give up. that was his business – but if he thought to talk me around to his point of view... If you want to use the excuse of ‘mother’s word’ or lean on examples from history to justify sharing her with our brother.. and that is only one example of many.” “Oh yes – for instance.” “I don’t know – you are the one who is forever buried in the past. I knew what he was doing. He is an adept at using words as weapons – respond. “In any case.” “That is not true! We have always treated our women with honor and respect.. And of course. there is the problem of mother’s word. that is your business. trying to convince me that the path he had fixed in his own mind was the correct one. It is clear in my mind that Draupadi is Arjuna’s – only. the wife of the seven rishis. “If grandfather Krishna Dwaipayana or uncle Vidura or someone like that.. Knowing he was impotent. Jadila. we have always been known to consider their welfare!” “Really? We Purus bought valiyamma Gandhari and married her to the blind Dhritarasthra. someone well versed in the Shastras was around.. as you know. it is what Arjuna thinks.. we bought Madri cheriyamma from Shalya for a few bars of gold.” “What advice?!” The anger I had been trying to get over boiled up afresh.BHIMSEN 112 I bit back the harsh words that rose.” My brother was. we could at least ask them for advice.. we Purus have never bothered to ask our women what they want.” . “Arjuna won Draupadi.. what Draupadi thinks – though of course. in my throat. I’ll only say this much – it is not what you want or what mother said that matters. and lapsed into the silence that was the one weapon he never knew how to counter.. and he will use your words as the starting point of a discourse on the Vedas and Shastras and Puranas. as second wife to Pandu. If my brother wanted to cling to the straw of ‘mother’s words’ to fulfil his own desires. like so much bile. one woman wedding many is not unknown in history. and that is that – at least as far as I am concerned. in his usual convoluted fashion.

I felt a sudden calm. Hidimbi is my wife and she is all I want. If you want to claim a share of the wife Arjuna won by the strength of his skill then so be it. Yudhishtira got to his feet and began to walk away. make sure it is not against Arjuna’s wishes. I owed Yudhishtira the love and the respect due to an elder brother – and I tendered it gladly. “You forget that we don’t have a palace. respecting him. but that does not matter to me.BHIMSEN 113 “Our father!” “Oh yes. identifying with his ambition—all of that did not mean I had to agree with everything he said and did. our father who was impotent and who could never beget children but who is our father nevertheless! Did anyone consult valiyamma Gandhari or cheriyamma Madri? Did their wishes even matter?” Sighing deeply. or even a home for that matter. I believed in his right to sit on the throne of Hastinapura as our father’s successor. that I had to give up my own principles and embrace his will and his whims—and I was glad of this chance to let him know. But for god’s sake. maybe a son – waiting for me in the forest. And mother forgets that we didn’t even have a name when she met me and cast her lot with mine. I have a wife – and by now. a sense of peace. “Leave Nakula and Sahadeva out of this – they are in any case young. let our age have its own Jadilas. “Wait!” I caught up with him. and I would gladly put my life on the line to help him to that throne. But loving him. I always would. my anger a throb in my head and a haze over my eyes that kept me from seeing clearly. there is still time for them to be married. Mother may not think she is good enough to be with us as part of our family. And leave me out of this. whatever you do. or I can promise you this: You will never win that prize you dream of all the time. .” As I walked away. you may not think she is exalted enough to live in a Kuru palace. the throne of Hastinapura. I felt the rage that had filmed my eyes melt away.

” I said.” I smiled. so I offered to do some spying. I am Dhristadyumna. An enemy waiting for the opportune moment to attack? I thought not – our enemies knew us well enough to not risk attacking singly. as our enemies would surely know. that was a Brahmin. my hand on the back of his head pushing his head into the mud as he struggled to escape. “Who are you? Who sent you here to spy on us?” The reply was muffled. I stood in the deep shadow of a neighboring hut. prince of Panchala. He had reached our hut and was peering in through a window. a single assassin could never be sure of killing all five of us.. occasionally emerging. and to leave any one of us alive was. This was more likely an advance spy sent out by those who would do us harm. pinning him. Father began worrying.BHIMSEN 114 Episode 28 The shadow flirted with other shadows. watching.” . “Yes. to invite terrible retribution. there was much talk.” “I thought at first that it was Arjuna who won my sister – but after you left the palace. I’m glad – I had suspected you were alive when I heard that a Brahmin had killed Bakan in combat. I came to find the Brahmins who came for the swayamvar and won my sister.. I straddled his back. I crept up behind him. “One of them stands before you now. attempting to get a sense of this new danger that threatened us. “I am Bheema. Besides.” I let him up. once within range I leapt. always moving closer to the hut we had made our temporary home. My mother and brothers are inside. hammering my shoulder into the small of his back and taking him down. “I am no spy. the Pandava. merging. and put an end to Vaitrakeyan’s human sacrifice. with your sister. all sorts of rumors were flying around.

Balarama had just spent a month at Hastinapura.. whenever you need it. seemed unusually talkative – the palace at Dwaraka was not complete yet. who was notorious in these parts for killing all who wandered into the Kamyaka forest. just ask. I had the bali performed to offer thanks to the gods.?” “Oh. mother raised the wick of the lamp and came over to sit beside me..” “No. “The wedding celebration has to be grand – everyone should know. we’ll certainly need your help and when the time is right we’ll ask for your support.. tried to kill you. I pushed open the door and walked in.. you can meet the others. your armies. Draupadi lay sleeping peacefully at my mother’s feet.... There was no sign of Arjuna and Krishna.” I laughed. As I sat in front of it...” Dhristadyumna touched my feet. and I’ve have sent him back to Hastinapura with all the news.hmmm.” “Oh. I finished my meal. A plate of food had been kept for me. Yudhishtira.BHIMSEN 115 “And Hidimban.. Let’s go in. “I am glad the Pandavas are alive. fast asleep. that was a nameless. to teach Duryodhana the art of fighting with the mace.. but the Yadavas had already moved there.” “A Brahmin priest. We have heard the stories.” “Mmm. everyone should come. usually never one for small talk. casteless wanderer – before he became a Brahmin.” I ate in silence. one of your uncle Vidura’s people. Dhristadyumna bent to touch my feet. . Nakula and Sahadeva were stretched out near the far wall. and vanished into the darkness. then wrapped his arms around me in an embrace. we know how Dhritarashtra and the Kauravas betrayed you.. see your sister. We are with you – whatever you need from us. not now – let me go reassure my father. was here. In one corner of the hut. Mother. I’ll meet your brothers at the formal wedding ceremony – we’ll celebrate then.

“Mother.” All the words I found so effortlessly when arguing with my brother earlier failed me now. If you are not together... “Mother.. I don’t think that right now the important thing is whether Draupadi marries Arjuna or all five of us.. I kept my head down. then no amount of support will help us achieve the goal. the lust. I could be back in the forest right now with my wife. in the eyes of every one of you. . from Drupada or whoever else.” Yudhishitira must have told her of our talk. I thought to myself. even your youngest brother. my eyes fixed on the empty plate in front of me. to show her that my eyes at least were clear of lust. when he looked at her… I am a woman.” “Of course you are right—I agree. we’ve suffered together and we have stayed together though we could have gone our different ways. child – far more important that the support we get from outside. I can see what men try the most to hide. in the presence of my mother. we are finally in a position to end our life of exile.. is that the five of you should stay united always. for fear my mother might read in them things I wasn’t even aware of myself. living a life of ease. if the learned men of our time have no fault to find with it. my child. Even Sahadeva. That is why I insist that all of you should marry her – and if there is support for it in the Shastras. Draupadi is different. your uncle’s messenger – he is very learned. when all of you came back from Drupada’s palace. But remember this.. Thanks to my brother.BHIMSEN 116 “That Brahmin.” I wanted to protest. that there should be no dissension between you. He explained to us that it was perfectly okay for Draupadi to marry all five of you – he said it was in fact the wise thing to do.” “My child. Earlier today. of running and hiding – the last thing we need to do right now is to annoy King Drupada by doing something that will create a lot of talk. very wise. The words of protest wouldn’t come. then all the better. this is different. why do you imagine we will not stay united? We’ve endured much together. I wanted to lift my eyes to my mother’s. I felt like a child obstinately refusing something he knows is good for him. you were watching Draupadi and I was watching you – and I saw the desire.

” For the second time that evening I struggled to raise my head. with a mixture of pride and wonder and even fear. I thought to myself – married to a king who couldn’t for most of his life give her the privileges and luxuries of a queen nor satisfy her as a woman. Don’t I know my children well enough to know that either Arjuna or you would have won the prize? When you knocked. I knew it was Draupadi you were talking about. “I heard that you quarreled with your brother today – that you were angry. facing constant calumny over the children she had borne the impotent Pandu. I sat down on the stoop outside. I stayed out there on the stoop. a sense of implacable purpose. you raised your voice to him. I was suddenly fearful. If something were to happen to him. I got up. hoping the chill of the night air would ease the fevers of the mind. you went to Drupada’s palace for the swayamvara. I didn’t deny it. something I had never sensed before: a grim determination. “The five of you didn’t go out this morning to beg alms.. want to share Draupadi after your brother’s turn? Look at me. you will rule. Yudhishtira’s heir. and I knew exactly what I was saying and why. Through an endless night when sleep refused me its shelter.BHIMSEN 117 Hastily. I didn’t make any excuses. tell me the truth.. you will inherit his throne. ashamed. my thoughts kept turning back to mother. “When you knocked on the door and said come see what alms we found. as the second in line. resuming a conversation I found increasingly uncomfortable. thinking to avoid going in.” She turned and went back inside. Don’t you. picked up my plate and went outside to wash it. putting up with the life of .” That note of affectionate amusement that always crept into mother’s voice when she called me fool was there again – but this time there was an undercurrent of something else. you fool. What must she be made of. her voice pitched low so as not to wake the others. to meet my mother’s eyes with my own. “You are my second son. for the second time that evening.” Mother was standing by the door. I knew she was there with you. of what might be there.

sacrifice anyone. a kingdom for her children. powerful allies. on her sole ambition: a throne for her eldest. despite it all.] . To that end. feeling the chill of the night air in my mind. If she had to. [And with that. mother would set fire to the world. fixed with fierce resolve. She would sacrifice her with as little qualms as she had the tribal woman and her five children in the hunting lodge at Varanavata.BHIMSEN 118 an unwelcome widow in Dhritarashtra’s palace and of untold hardship during our wanderings in the forest… and yet. I thought. I shivered. the end of Book Two. Draupadi was nothing—just a means to acquire rich. unwavering clarity. she would even sacrifice one of us. she would do anything. in my heart. if that was the only means to the goal she had determined on.

became months – and never had I known time to pass so slowly. we could wage war against the Kauravas if we had to. their relatives and friends followed.BHIMSEN 119 Episode 29 Days became weeks. A dozen women who had served my mother when we lived in Hastinapura were the first to come. take by force what was rightfully ours. Nakula and Sahadeva. With the Yadavas under Krishna and the Panchalas under Drupada and Dhristadyumna on our side. and the trickle became a flood as people rushed to get the first pick of the prime plots in their allocated sector. The forest of Khandavaprastha—an overlooked. The news spread. They surveyed . who had worked on the land allocation decree with Yudhishtira. people began flocking to Khandavaprastha in increasing numbers. with their husbands and families. and mother sided with him. that we should fight for our right to Hastinapura. Dhristadyumna was even more vehement. proved to be talented administrators. So we moved – and to my surprise. but wood was plentiful and stonemasons and woodworkers poured in. Housing was the immediate need. I thought when I first set sight on the forest. with considerable heat. Arjuna agreed with me and said so. Yudhishtira decreed that each person who joined us could take for free an amount of land that was pre-determined by his occupation and his station in life. I had argued. Just another form of exile. Vaisyas sensed an opportunity and came in growing numbers to set up their businesses. people worked night and day to transform a vast jungle into a city. attracted by the vast amount of work to be had. outlying part of the Hastinapura kingdom – had been given to us as our ‘share’ of the inheritance. Around me. pretty soon. we were stronger than ever. But Yudhishtira was unwilling to trigger a full-scale war.

Duryodhana and Karna led. The Kauravas were overwhelmed. and we met the Kauravas in a field just outside the kingdom’s main gates. seemed to be high sport. Duryodhana led the Kauravas in a sneak attack on us. it was Dhristadyumna who astonished us all – when mounted on a chariot. At one point I saw Karna. with joy almost – battle. with a rapidity that was almost miraculous. My two youngest brothers had grown up overnight. he cut swathes through the enemy. divided it up into sections. Shortly after this skirmish. Even as those ceremonies were being organized and messengers were being sent to invite neighboring kings and princes. one for each of us.BHIMSEN 120 and mapped the land that had been allotted to us. he seemed to have the knack of being in a dozen different places all at once and wherever he appeared. Arjuna reasoned that they did not want to mobilize on a large scale and tip off grandfather Bheesma and uncle Vidura about their intentions. We lost 20 of our soldiers. But well as Arjuna fought. Arjuna was unstoppable. the suta putra’s charioteer bundled him in and raced away from the field. they were creating a kingdom out of a wilderness. an unlooked-for addition to the celebrations. fall off his chariot. He led the Panchala army out with Arjuna and me for company. and six horses. and the Sindhu king Jayadratha who had married Duryodhana’s sister Dusshala. The young lad fought with enjoyment. hit by my brother’s arrows. The Kauravas had come with a small force. were in the front rank. he was magical. decided where the various castes would have their territories and where the cattle sheds would go and the elephants and horses would be housed and which sections would be cleared for farm-land. and they oversaw the work of construction. lasting just about three hours or so. disrupted their formations. Dhristadyumna mocked him . Dhristadyumna seemed to think it was all good fun. They had a sizeable treasury at their disposal to fund the task— Drupada and Dhristadyumna had overwhelmed us with their generosity during the elaborate wedding ceremonies. for him. and made it easy for his men to cut through. they turned tail and ran. It was my first real battle and it proved to be a short one. leaving behind over one hundred dead not counting a few dozen horses and some elephants. allies like Bhurisravas and Saubhala. uncle Vidura came to Drupada’s palace as Dhritarashtra’s envoy to plead for peace.

Uncle advised us that though it seemed unfair for Dhritarashtra to fob us off with an uninhabited forest as our ‘share’. there were four lodges there that we moved into. starting with the eldest. Drupada and Dhristadyumna sent us off in splendid style. he agreed. And after that late-night conversation with mother. would have to wait two years before he could spend time with the woman who had chosen him as her husband. we had tremendous goodwill among the people of Hastinapura – when the news spread that we had settled in Khandavaprastha. And then there was Krishna. The Panchala king also sent a team of his best architects and sculptors to help us set up our kingdom. I had to intervene and get the prince to calm down by telling him of the many times Vidura’s advice had saved our lives. each loaded down with grain and chests of gold and precious stones. Dozens of wagons accompanied us. nobody said a word – “The rishis and wise men have decided this is in the best interests of all of us. He had laid down the rules before we left the Panchala kingdom. a luxurious lodge meant for the king. he pointed out. and we would have the nucleus of our own kingdom. we should accept it. The Kurus had used Khandavaprastha for their occasional hunting expeditions. Yudhishtira hardly ever came out of his palace. horses and elephants. who had won her with his skill. I had given . who sent us many more wagonloads of grain and hundreds of cattle. which was traditionally used by the princes and womenfolk. Mother. We were now strong. but we were not yet strong enough for a full-scale war with a Hastinapura army that would be led by grandfather Bheesma and guru Dronacharya and backed by the many allies the Kauravas had gathered to themselves during our time in exile. I had given up arguing – in fact. and when he presented Draupadi with two dozen chests of gold and pearls. many of them would follow us there.” my elder brother had announced. Yudhishtira and Draupadi moved into the biggest one. the one used by the servants accompanying the hunting party. Draupadi was to spend one year in turn with each of us brothers in order of seniority.BHIMSEN 121 in open court. Nakula and Sahadeva were settled in the second biggest one. If it was unfair that Arjuna. He had come for the wedding celebrations. Arjuna took the third largest and I moved into the smallest lodge. following in their wake was an endless column of cows and goats. I saw mother’s eyes fill with happy tears. Besides.

very fine silk robe that clung to her body. In just three weeks. A garland of jasmine had been threaded into her long hair. And when that was done. The first year was coming to an end.BHIMSEN 122 up thinking about it. covered in muck and dressed in nothing more than a loin-cloth. I ended up spending most of my time with the army we were gradually building – training with them. a single strand of pearls highlighted her slender neck and the finest of gold threads circled a waist I could span with my fingers. and it struck me that the slender young girl I had first seen in the swayamvara mandap and who had during the wedding celebrations smiled up at me as she put a garland around my neck had grown into a woman in the space of less than a year. I tried to fill each day with activity. “They say you can fight a fully grown elephant in its musth. and helping the mahouts bathe them and groom them. A breach of this rule entailed a year’s exile for the offender. I was working with my elephant late one evening. and seemed so much in control of it that I did not think it fitting to intrude. time had slowed to an insufferable crawl. for fear of unearthing hidden desires I dared not acknowledge. teaching them the skills we had learnt under Kripa and Shukra and Drona.” It was the first time I had seen Draupadi outside the palace she shared with Yudhishtira. Draupadi would enter my home as my wife—and in the interim. though I suspected at the time that she was merely voicing something Yudhishtira had thought of – for the other four to approach the house of the brother with whom Draupadi was staying at the time. even had I known what to do. and the loss of his turn with Draupadi. to take my mind off what I increasingly dreamt about. working with my own elephant that I had brought over from Hastinapura and with the others in the paddock. She still wore white – a very sheer. I invariably wound up at the elephant paddock. taking part in their drills. It was forbidden – this was mother’s addition. let alone voice. . It wasn’t easy – Nakula and Sahadeva were so totally immersed in the job of building a city. a kingdom. when I was startled by a voice just behind me.

. I realized that she was looking at me as openly as I had been staring at her. her eyes alight with mischief – and with something else I wasn’t sure if I saw or merely hoped for. her eyes roving over every inch of my almostnaked body.BHIMSEN 123 With a start. She caught my eyes and smiled.

that’s all. all the improvements I had carried out inside the house over the past several months to make it attractive was in anticipation of the year I would spend with her. “He was fat. it took a few minutes.” She laughed. hastily knotted it at my waist and looked up to catch a knowing smile in Draupadi’s eyes..” “And Hidimban? They talk of how you split his head and a river of blood flowed all the way to the Ganga. Visokan was supervising half a dozen sculptors who were working on decorating the garden with statues. I kicked myself.” “I broke his neck. dulled by alcohol and in no shape to fight. brushed some of the mud and sweat off my face. I think of that. I adjusted the robe I had hastily draped around myself. I wondered if Draupadi would notice. little stone fountains and carved stone benches in little nooks shrouded by flowers.” Mentally. often.” I shrugged. There was no blood. . in fact. if she would realize that all this work and. Women love stories of heroic battles – why was I belittling my own stories when I could spin them out and keep her for that much longer beside me? “It was because of the strength of your arm that Arjuna and I were able to get away that day at the swayamvara mandap.BHIMSEN 124 Episode 30 “I heard that your battle with Bakan lasted an entire day!” I looked around for my robe. and caught up with her just as we neared the garden outside my house.. but all those heroes who came to win me could only talk – when it came to action. “I thought I’d get to see a really good battle. they ran away!” She walked away from the elephant paddock. “These court singers will exaggerate anything.

“It seems Subhadra threatened to run away with our brother. Yudhishtira walked out from the inner hall.” It was not the first time in these last eleven months that a messenger had come with news that my brother had married some princess or the other.BHIMSEN 125 “The Yuvaraj has planned a big yaga tonight – the putrakameshti yaga. her gaze fixed on the sculptors.. when I walked over from my house. “Arjuna has married Subhadra.” I noticed that Yudhishtira was talking unusually loudly. “I wonder if they are kshatriyas. like Krishna’s and mine?” I noticed she was shredding the flower between her fingers. but Krishna decided to visit us. the torn petals fluttering to the ground at her feet.” Yudhishtira said when the news came. we had received a summons to the main palace. I wondered. “A messenger came to me this morning with the news. waiting in the front courtyard.” Three days earlier. leaving the door open. Then there was a strange story of a Naga princess. “I’ve never heard that Yadava women are famed for their beauty. when his time was almost up? I kept the thought to myself. to get a son and heir. and he is bringing his sister and Arjuna with him. Why now.” he said. who was we heard was so enamored by Arjuna that she drugged him and took him . Draupadi reached up to pick a hibiscus flower from a nearby bush. daughter of the king of Manipura.” he told us. not wanting her to think I had been counting the days. There are two weeks left of his exile. We first heard that he had married one Chitrangadha. “They will be here in two or three days. and Krishna said he would help her. Nakula. Sahadeva and mother were already there. Was Draupadi just behind the door listening.. Ulupi. Krishna’s sister.” Draupadi said. Krishna was delighted but brother Balarama was not. I bent the branch to make it easier for her. “So… is Subhadra very pretty? Have you seen her? Is her skin dark.

Without a word. and ran off to get his weapons. “But there is a rule. All of it was not exactly what life in exile was supposed to be.. I discounted most of it and figured only that yet another damsel had fallen in love with my handsome brother.” Arjuna fumed. But Yudhishtira was adamant in that ‘reasonable’ way he had when he wanted to get his way about something. I argued that the duty of a kshatriya to protect anyone who came to him for succor superseded all else.” our brother said. Knowing how stories get exaggerated. that this is our land and no one can loot and kill with impunity. Later that evening. I would have found some other excuse to get away—I’ve been wanting to visit other lands. I was the only one to see him go. and so totally unnecessary. we’ll see. “It is not that I mind.BHIMSEN 126 away to her own kingdom. and if we make one excuse now. Arjuna stormed out. we will make some other excuse tomorrow when Draupadi is with someone else. “You know how we had stored our arms in Yudhishtira’s home for the time being? Without thinking. see if there is something I can learn. “They need to be taught that we are here now. If this hadn’t happened.” We were assembled in the outer courtyard of Yudhishtira’s home.” he told me that night. personally. but what of that? The very nature of his going into exile was itself stupid.” Never mind. I told him – go chase away the dacoits and come back. “A year of knowing that Draupadi is… Anyway. . and mother backed him up. and the whole system will break down. I ran in – and saw our brother and Draupadi together. “I had been meaning to go away anyway. He came back armed with his bow and a full quiver. looking sheepish.. “Did no one tell you the Yuvaraja has decided that Arjuna’s lost turn as my husband reverts to him?” Draupadi’s voice cut into my reverie and left me stunned. A little over a week after we had settled in Khandavaprastha.” He left early the next morning. a man came up to tell us that a band of dacoits had driven away his cattle.

past Arjuna’s. I wanted to talk to Arjuna. and helped a girl down. My brother jumped down from the first one. Sympathy? A promise? The clatter of horses’ hooves broke the spell. when she looked at me again. I thought as I watched Krishna get down from the second chariot. but he was busy celebrating with Krishna over pots of Sura.” he said.” “Isn’t it best to wait till Krishna has left?” . Abruptly. picked up the jug and emptied it without pause. I pushed the food aside. He went out. Four horses. Draupadi’s eyes followed mine. Three chariots raced into the square and pulled up before Arjuna’s house. I wanted to hear of the lands he had seen and the people he had met and all he had learnt. I wandered from one to the other. I walked back to my house. conscious of a sudden restlessness. Nakula oversaw the grand puthrakameshti yaga at Yudhishtira’s house. readying my home for a honeymoon that was not to be. Visokan had kept some meat and a big earthen jug of Sura for me. held out his hand. and into the one she shared with Yudhishtira. “The yaga went very well. That evening. It must be Subhadra.BHIMSEN 127 Almost without conscious thought. She was dressed in a silk robe of flaming red. “Keep a chariot ready for me first thing tomorrow morning. the diamonds studded in it flashing in the evening sun. came back moments later with another jug. “More.” I looked at him. I drank. A golden diadem circled her hair. there was something in her eyes I couldn’t decipher.” “You should eat. I glanced back at the sculptors at work in my garden. while Sahadeva organized a great feast at Arjuna’s. Draupadi left my side and walked away – past my home.

unable to sit still. I looked across at my elder brother’s home. The alcohol. A dozen pots of Sura. plunging towards me – and inside my head. Arjuna’s home still blazed with lights. I heard the sounds of loud laughter. I sank down on one of the stone benches the sculptors had so lovingly created for Draupadi. wandered out into the garden. another was about to enter its second year. Feeling heartsick. finished what was left in one long gulp and. with my son at her breast. Somewhere far away in a forest my wife would be sleeping.” I picked up the jug. before dawn. Some meat. they exploded in a shower of light. Pack all my arms into it. and looked up at the stars. .BHIMSEN 128 “Tomorrow morning. the lack of food. where the lights were going out one by one. The stars fell out of the heavens. One honeymoon was about to begin. all began to hit me at once. My head swam. unable to sleep.

In his view. a destination. and otherwise to be relegated to the background. “We must be near Kashi. Towards afternoon of the next day the hills began to level out.” We rode on through the night through forests and up hills. More than anyone else. in a journey without a purpose. If he was curious about why I had decided to while away an entire day beside this lake. to be used when the urge was felt. it was always a son I pictured in my mind—a son who would grow up stronger. and luckier than his father. he didn’t ask – and I didn’t tell. a point. I hoped she would bring our son with her. lush plain and in the distance I saw the glint of sunlight on water. I hoped Hidimbi would come. was shaped like a lotus leaf. we raced across a broad. braver. “The Ganga. listening for the sound of footsteps in the rain-drenched grass. to be impregnated when policy dictated. “Where now?” “To the west. but he would never understand my constant ache for this girl of the forest I had known and loved so long ago. he was the one I shared my thoughts with and looked to for timely advice. I watched Visokan feeding and watering the horses and washing out the chariot. I walked towards the chariot. and which in time became our favorite place to be together. I hadn’t really noticed before that the lake beside which I first met Hidimbi. As dusk fell.BHIMSEN 129 Episode 31 I sat for a long time beside the lake.” . again. women were merely a convenience for the kshatriya. Whenever I thought of our child.” Visokan said.

I thought. everywhere. surprising me yet again with his astuteness. but I left that thought unvoiced.” As kingdoms go. the swayamvara is for his sister Balandhara. Visokan stopped the chariot and jumped out.” As we drove through the city square and towards the palace gates. “There is a swayamvara in the palace today. really. Kashi was a quarter the size of Panchala or Hastinapura – not much more. it will flourish in no time.” he told me as he flicked his whip at the horses to get them moving again. we saw increasing signs of festivity.” I told Visokhan. “Actually. Visokan caught me staring. “Before we leave. the Pandava prince of Khandavaprastha – you cannot ride into Kasi looking like a wandering beggar. you should invite some of these workers to move to Khandavaprastha. “I had packed a few things before we set out – who knew where we were going and what you might need? You are Bheema. remind me to buy some of this silk to take back to Khandavaprastha. happy people in their festive best moved in the direction of the palace that loomed ahead of us. and laughed. Street after street was filled with bright-hued silks airing in the sun. “The king here is one Seneshan. dyeing large swathes of fabric in every imaginable color and stretching them out to dry. with a yellow sash for the waist and a 12-strand necklace of pearls strung on gold.BHIMSEN 130 We pulled up in the shade of a cluster of trees by the river bank.” Visokan said. “They can start this business there. The crowds slowed our chariot to a crawl. For Draupadi. I noticed that Visokan had unpacked and laid out a robe of bright red silk.” . we saw weavers at work on their looms while their women worked beside them. Buntings and decorated arches were everywhere. I stripped down to the skin and jumped in. We rode through the gates. crossing to a group of people who were gathered under a peepul tree drinking something out of little mud cups. When I finally climbed out of the water. and into a riot of colour that took the breath away. letting the cool waters of the river wash away the fatigue of a night and day of non-stop travel. than a collection of fairly large villages.

to impregnate Vichitravirya’s two wives. the story went. I thought – the Pandavas were closely related to the Kashis through our nominal grandfather. consumptive Pandu as a result of that night. Dwaipayana. Drums and trumpets sounded with festive vigor. before returning to Khandavaprastha.” Visokan told the dignified old man who stood at the head of the welcoming group. The eldest. and when he heard that the king of Kashi was holding a swayamvara for his three daughters. garlanding each guest as he walked up and applying the auspicious tilak on his forehead. He showed no sign that the name meant anything to him. Satyavati summoned her other son Krishna Dwaipayana. born of the sage Parashara.BHIMSEN 131 An unexpected interlude in what I had thought would be a routine passage through the kingdom. It was one of the stories we had heard while growing up: Chitrangada. Grandfather Bhisma had ruled as regent in his place. and died of some disease shortly after the marriage. was so ugly that Ambika closed her eyes tight when she saw him in her bedchamber – and in time. at least. and ended up with the pale. the Pandava prince from Khandavaprastha. moving right through and travelling onwards till Kamarupa. And Ambalika in her turn turned pale when she set eyes on Dwaipayana. Vichitravirya. this was the kingdom of my grandmother. Strange. servitors waited by the palace doors to welcome the guests and dozens of women in bright-colored silk robes stood in two rows beside the gates. had died when young and his younger brother Vichitravirya had succeeded him while still a child. The prince was sickly. so Ambika and Ambalika were married to Vichitravirya. If the balladeers were to be believed. bore a blind son named Dhritarashtra. “This is Bheema. who were used to the wooden structures of Hastinapura and Panchala. Seneshan’s palace was about half the size of Drupada’s palace at Panchala. . The courtyard of the palace teemed with chariots flying flags I was not familiar with. a wandering mendicant. he rode over and won them by force of arms and carried them back to Hastinapura as brides for the young prince. was in love with someone else. Amba. The walls were made of mud bricks hardened by fire – a novelty for us. the elder son of King Shantanu and Queen Satyavati.

and ushered me to a prominent place in the front row. no doubt. came up to us.” He led me away from the throng of spectators where I was hoping to find a seat.” “Yudhishtira is now king of Khandavaprastha. A bustle in one corner of the hall attracted my attention.” Visokan said. and elder brother of Arjuna.” The young man’s air of indifference vanished. a prince of some sort judging by his dress and ornaments.. “Bhima is his younger brother. “Khandavaprastha? Where is that?” he asked when Visokan introduced me. From the whispered conversations around me. My kingdom is blessed that you have come.. I got a real sense of how far my brother’s fame had spread. I saw a group of women come into the hall from an inner part of the palace.” I told her once. like Dhritarashtra. Setting aside his crown. “Near Hastinapura. though my brother had not yet assumed the crown. . A flourish of trumpets announced the start of the festivities. will our son be born with eyes that will never shut even in sleep?” she laughed at me then. who was standing in one corner of the hall – people. and prostrated before them. A dozen priests sat around the sacrificial fire. “Our son will be born blind. looking down at her flushed face and tight-shut eyes. offering ghee and grain to the sound of shlokas.” “I’ve heard of a Yudhishtira of Hastinapura. many came up for a closer look at ‘Arjuna’s brother’. wanting to know more about who I was and where I was from. A young man.BHIMSEN 132 I told Hidimbi this story when we were together by our lake. he bent low to touch my feet. I understood that there was to be no contest – this was a swayamvara where the bride would pick her husband of choice on her own. “I am Seneshan. I noticed a small crowd gathering around Visokan. Seneshan gave them gifts of gold and silk. The news spread. For the first time. the Yuvaraja. “Oh? And if I keep my eyes open. amidst the many kings and princes who had come seeking his sister’s hand.

the head priest handed her a garland. I heard of my battles with Hidimban and Bakan and of heroic encounters with a horde of humans and rakshasas and asuras I hadn’t even heard of before.BHIMSEN 133 In the midst of them was a young girl in bright yellow robes. not mere satraps from neighboring provinces. . As Seneshan hurried towards me with a delighted smile on his face. but by then the court singers had launched into their song. Behold the mighty Bheema. As she paused before each king or prince. a fringe of her robe dropping over her forehead and hiding her face.. Her head was down. Balandhara left the group of women and walked into the hall. Lo and behold the younger brother of Yudhishtira the son of Yama Dharma himself. sister of the divine Krishna. she gave gifts of gold. She moved to the end of the hall and. the balladeers named them in songs that told of their heroic deeds. very slowly and deliberately. grain and silks to the priests and prostrated for their blessings. my eyes fixed firmly on the floor. with jasmine flowers braided into her long. I sensed Balandhara step closer and a garland go around my neck. As the court singers sang of her charms and described her as a special gift from the gods to the kingdom of Kashi. And just when I thought they were finally done. She stopped in front of me. I looked around for Seneshan to tell him that I was not an aspirant to his sister’s hand. the assembled kings and princes and spectators burst into applause. I would have imagined I was seated in the presence of the greatest kings of the age. heading towards the sacrificial fire. walked down its length. I squirmed with embarrassment. If I didn’t know of the propensity of court singers to exaggerate. they launched into a colorful tale of my titanic struggle against rakshasas descended from the demon king Ravana.. In her turn. who had set out on in a single chariot on a voyage of world conquest. She was taller than Draupadi. The singers were in full flight when. lustrous hair and a diamondencrusted belt at her waist. suddenly. and elder brother of the heroic Arjuna who had in battle defeated the Nagas and the Yadavas and snatched away the beauteous Subhadra. almost as tall as Hidimbi but much more slender.

BHIMSEN 134 I raised my head and looked into the smiling eyes of this bride I had acquired while running away from the proximity of the one who was my sister-in-law today and would be my bride at some point in the future. .

” I said. “The Kashis have blood ties to both Pandavas and Kauravas – thanks to this marriage. not the desire of a man towards a beautiful bride. The chariots were waiting for us when we went into the courtyard at dawn. It was anger. they are now firmly tied to us. Why must everyone remind me of Draupadi? When I retired to the bedroom a little while ago after an evening of celebration with Seneshan and his court. I will come to greet King Yudhishtira and your other brothers as soon as I have attended to a few things here.” Seneshan told me as I took his leave. And anyway. how long are you going to spend in that house. my hand grasping her robe and pulling it aside. that drove me as I took her that night. “This marriage is a good thing. alone with those sculptures you commissioned to make Draupadi happy?” I pulled Balandhara towards me. “Please pay my respects to your mother. Visokan was waiting. “My maids were teasing me just now.” . and was seemingly intent on lowering the wicks in the giant brass lamp. ornately carved in gleaming teak and drawn by four horses of the purest white. “24 families of weavers will follow you to Khandavaprastha. Her uncle joined half a dozen servitors in a third chariot. They said I was luckier than Draupadi – I get you all to myself for four years out of five.BHIMSEN 135 Episode 32 “What will Draupadi say when you return to Khandavaprastha with a bride?” Balandhara had her back turned to me. Mine had been loaded down with Seneshan’s gifts – chests of gold and jewels.” he said. She turned to me with laughter in her eyes. Balandhara and four of her maids got into a second chariot. beautifully carved gold and silver plates and bundles of the purest silks. “It is normal for kshatriyas to have more than one wife.” I felt a sudden surge of anger. with an unconcern I didn’t feel.

and Visokan pulled up in the courtyard of my home. several hundred soldiers had left Dhritarashtra’s service and brought their families with them. the army missed me. “Arjuna and Krishna cleared it out. We drove past a cluster of charred huts.” I told them about the homes in Kashi. but when a few died before Arjuna’s arrows and Krishna began setting the huts on fire.” Sahadevan told me.” Mayan scoffed. in the dark of the night. when I left. “From now on she will spend her days with me. “We decided to build a grand central hall in the open space in the middle of our homes. dark man whom he introduced as Mayan. “He is an architect from the south.. Visokan went off to attend to the maids and servitors who had come with us from Kashi. promising to care for his comfort. built with mud bricks baked hard by fire. Sahadevan came running up. She welcomed Balandhara with an easy affection she had never shown Hidimbi. “Oh. “Couldn’t you have sent a messenger ahead to tell us when you would arrive?” Without waiting for a reply. .” my brother said. but that is not particularly strong. a brand new palace was being planned.” Sahadeva took Balandhara’s uncle with him.” mother said. late in the evenings. I went to his home. We neared Khandavaprastha late one evening. “They made it into a picnic. thin. made love under the stars. “I moved into this house because it is more spacious and comfortable – who knows how many more brides my sons will bring home?” It was mother who told me that just last week a son had been born to Arjuna. and found him with a tall. we made camp and Balandhara and I wandered off by ourselves to find some secluded nook where we swam and lazed on the banks and. stopping when the mood took us. Construction was going on everywhere. What. the rest fled. I gazed out at what had once been a forest.BHIMSEN 136 We were in no hurry to return to Khandavaprastha. For days we drove along the banks of the Ganga. When food ran out. Mayan is the best architect in the country. he rattled off the news: hundreds of families had come from Hastinapura. had been a vast forest was now reduced now to an enormous tract of open land. some of the temples he has built in the south are magical.. The tribals resisted at first. I hunted. Mother had moved into a spacious new home.

I can understand a man waiting four years for her.” Yudhishtira invited me. “I met Balandhara’s uncle. “I am experimenting with some colors just now and when I get all the right shades I need.” He described a method of making bricks of varying sizes.” he said. Mother had taken her to Yudhishtira’s home so she could pay her respects.” Had Draupadi asked her about me.” I wandered around. and walked over to Yudhishtira’s home.” We talked for a while of how the kingdom was slowly taking shape.” she said.” he said as he walked in ahead of me. dyeing them in various shades and baking them in coal-fired kilns that he said he had perfected.BHIMSEN 137 “After a few seasons of sun and rain. I wondered. came up to welcome me back and to tell me how happy they were to be part of our kingdom. on seeing me. Subhadra bent to touch my feet. and asked a maid to tell my brother I was there to see him.” I went inside to see the child.” Arjuna. we’ll start the work of construction. “I met Draupadi today. “She is beautiful. It is good. “Abhimanyu. said. I sat on a bench in the outer courtyard. stopping to talk to people who had come over from Hastinapura and who. “What did you talk about?” . I kissed the child on the forehead. took the infant from her maid and held it out to me.” I blessed the child. “We haven’t decided anything yet. “Krishna was the one who picked his name. It was the first time I was stepping into my brother’s home after we had moved to Khandavaprastha. looking at all the new homes being constructed. we were waiting for you to return. “Come… come inside. “We will build the hall using this technique. far more even than I had imagined. and of his plans for a grand Rajasuya Yagna. the bricks begin to crack. your marriage – the king of Kashi is a good ally to have. He is coming here tonight for a game of dice. “Draupadi is pregnant. who had walked in behind me. A maid brought me a jug of Sura. Balandhara was waiting for me.” “He will grow up into a greater hero than his father. It was late when I returned home.

” We went inside the armory. but light enough so you can swing it one-handed. arrows and spears containing hollow tips into which snake venom could be infused so the enemy would die from the merest scratch. a crowd of new recruits gathered around us to watch. “Mayan designed it for Arjuna. and then ignored me and talked to mother. seven horses will draw it. I headed off towards the new armory Sahadeva told me had been built near the elephant paddock. a flexible sword several feet long that would coil like a belt when not in use. The next morning. “I will make you a brand new mace. In the yard outside.. men were working on a war chariot far larger than any I had ever seen.” Kneeling on the floor of the gymnasium. I walked over to Yudhishtira’s home.” I pulled her into my arms.” he said.BHIMSEN 138 “Talk? I don’t know if she even saw me properly – she barely glanced at me once. Around the armory were the homes and workshops of the weapons-makers. experts who had been sent by Drupada and Krishna. he sketched pictures of some weapons he was creating – arrows with crescent heads that could slice an enemy’s head off. entirely of metal. the Agneyaastra… His extensive knowledge of the weapons in use in other lands astonished me. “The trick is in the design – it has to be powerful enough to kill an elephant at a blow. The floor was a vast gymnasium. I waited at .. He had names for all of them—the Nagaastra. Mayan was examining my maces. not so much because I wanted her just then as to stop her from saying anything else that I wouldn’t enjoy hearing. that when it struck sparks off metal would burst into flame. arms of varying types were stored in the upper levels. He was beginning to tell me of a curved club that. “It is Mayan’s design. and with which the warrior could strike at an enemy before he could get close. when thrown. Passing through the inner courtyard. an arrow tipped with some strange chemical he knew of. Nakula and I practiced for a while with short and long swords. He was engaged in a game of dice with Balandhara’s uncle and didn’t even glance up as I walked through the main hall. would come back to hand if it missed the target when an elderly maid came up to us with a message: Draupadi wanted to see me.” Nakula told me.

I took it from her and toyed with the pearls – anything to keep from staring at her. beyond what my brother had said the previous evening. It seems Arjuna wants to challenge the Magadha king. “Krishna is using your brothers to settle his personal score with Jarasandha – and there is at least one Pandava who is always ready to do whatever Krishna suggests. “So what has been decided about the Rajasuya?” she asked me without preamble. “If it is you who faces Jarasandha in combat. and returned with a 24-strand pearl necklace in her hand. Jarasandha. “May you be blessed with a heroic son. “Neither the Kurus nor the Panchalas have any enmity with Magadha and its ruler..” I said. Pregnancy suited her. “A wedding gift. I told her. She came out.” I took leave of her. someone who stood to me in the position of a mother. heavy with the weight of child. I had to remind myself that I was in the presence of my elder brother’s wife.” she said.” Her voice was pitched low. .” I said in ritual blessing.” she said as she held it out to me.” She went back into her room. “Krishna says that no Rajasuya is possible without defeating the Magadha king. I hurriedly walked away. “My time with your brother ends on the full moon night of Karthika. her face glowed and even through her robes I could sense that her body had grown more shapely – the slender damsel of nearly two years ago was now a very desirable woman. I knew nothing. “In any case.BHIMSEN 139 the door of Draupadi’s room while a maid scurried in to tell her I was here.” It felt uncomfortable discussing such subjects with a woman. then the outcome will be different – you are the only one who can defeat him. Your brother agrees.” “Let me think about it. Yudhishtira hasn’t discussed anything with me yet..” I said. He thinks war can be avoided if one of you brothers challenges Jarasandha to personal combat. It was not a comfortable thought. “I will see that Arjuna comes to no harm.

He would then rightfully assume the title of Emperor. on the first full moon night of Karthika. no other ruler. An involuntary shiver shook me. For all this to happen.BHIMSEN 140 That night I lay beside Balandhara. . Around her neck gleamed the pearl necklace Draupadi had given me as our wedding gift. I had to challenge the king of Magadha and kill him in combat – no one else could. my thoughts in a whirl. and I would kill him. not even the Kauravas. Revulsion and lust warred in my mind and lust won—I knew I would challenge Jarasandha. Beside me. It was all clear to me now. Yudhishtira could perform the Rajasuya. Draupadi would become Empress. Balandhara slept on. Why had Draupadi summoned me? To give me a wedding gift. And my reward would be Draupadi herself. would gainsay him. after having ignored my bride? To warn me that the Pandavas should not challenge Jarasandha? Or to tell me that we should? If Jarasandha was killed in personal combat.

“Don’t stop. a very busy marketplace. Jarasandha was a man who enjoyed the thrill of combat – I felt a surge of respect for him. he readied for combat. joyous way he prepared to face me. “It is a night to hear stories. She bent low to touch my feet.. I rose. The light of the full moon in Karthika – a light I had waited 24 months to see. for the fearless.” she said. The kingdom of Magadha nestles in between five hills. and walked over to a wooden stool in a corner of the room. so there was no spare stock of ghee.BHIMSEN 141 Episode 33 He removed his crown and set it aside. I opened the window and let the moonlight stream into the room. robes carelessly draped around her full form...” she said earlier that evening when she first came to my room. “Tell me the whole story..” she said. then waved her maids away and shut the door. you find rows of shops selling everything from silks and ornaments to food – lots of shops..” . eyes closed. “Tell me how you escaped from the hunting lodge at Varanavatha. tied his long hair up in a knot and stepped into the ring. washing over me as I stood there. and from the moment she came into my home she had avoided my touch. Slapping his chest and thighs with hands the size of little babies. The wicks in the brass lamp had begun to smoke. When I took her in my arms. It had never occurred to me that we would need to keep the big lamp burning that night. picked up a jug of Sura Visokan had left for me. It was her first night as my bride. “Tell me about your battle with Jarasandha. all the details. “I am blessed.” I glanced at her as she lay on the bed. she pulled free and went to sit on the edge of the bed.” Draupadi said.. When you enter the main gate of the fortress. I paused. I am listening.

” “How did you kill Bakan? No. not feast.. He was an inch or so taller than me and almost as big as King Dhritarashtra.” “You are a kshatriya. he told me that Jarasandha was famous for his hospitality towards anyone who came to the palace and beat on the drums. I banged on them to announce our presence. “But I don’t know who you are. “This is where our guests have their last meal.. He had dismissed the guards at his entrance. he now stood in the centre of . yet you sacrifice your own kind – that itself is an offense. The soldiers ushered us to seats.” an old servitor who was directing the others said. servitors hurried up bearing plates of food and drink.BHIMSEN 142 “Tell me about your battle with Hidimban. Jarasandha had him imprisoned in the nearby caves that he had turned into prisons. It was Jarasandha’s yagna shala. It was late evening when Jarasandha finally came to the pavilion. A group of soldiers marched towards us.” And so on to Magadha. They were kept there in chains until the time came for one of his regular yagas.” Krishna told them.” he said. when they were brought out and offered up as sacrifices. A few of the maids giggled. I told them. Krishna told me what to do.” They looked at us with pity in their eyes. The story was that when he defeated someone. and led us to a vast pavilion dominated by a blazing fire in the middle. challenging him to personal combat.” Krishna said. don’t tell me he was fat and it only took two minutes… tell me the details. and Jarasandha. “We have heard that this kingdom is ruled by a kshatriya who gives up other kshatriyas as sacrifice. There were three huge drums made of elephant hide just outside the palace gates. He saluted us. “We have come to challenge him to personal combat. We came to fight. “I am always happy to accept a challenge.. The Magadha king was clearly confident of his own powers.. I am not conscious of having given offense to any of you. the place where he carried out his ritual sacrifices.

It is your choice. tied his long hair up in a knot and stepped into the ring. Jarasandha returned at dawn. all I saw was your back. “And who are you? Warriors introduce themselves before challenging someone to combat.. and neither Arjuna nor you can match me in the ring... of the Yadavas. Krishna introduced himself. “You were standing there alone. “This young man has the body of a wrestler – let it be Bheema.” Draupadi said.BHIMSEN 143 the pavilion. resting her hand on my thigh. “I am Krishna. in the middle of the room with that tall pillar raised over your head.. you were young when we last met – and since you were running away.. I didn’t recognize you. her eyes shone..” Jarasandha laughed out loud. and none of those cowards dared come near you. Have the usual pujas performed.” Jarasandha told Krishna.. facing us with total composure. The air of indolence she had worn like a cloak had vanished.” Finally. then. . and made it sound as if I had single-handedly defeated the dozens of kings who came to your swayamvara.” Krishna first introduced Arjuna. Then he spoke of me. “Let the trumpets sound and drums beat to announce the combat. “Forgive me. younger brother of Balarama. gave the priests alms and sought their blessings. Krishna told him.” That night. and prepare food and drink for all who come to watch. his body covered with sandal paste and with a garland of fresh flowers around his neck. The priests lit the sacrificial fire and began their chants. we rested in the pavilion. her face was flushed as she sat at the foot of the stool.” Turning to his minister. “My people like a good show. He looked at me. “I still remember how you looked then.” He asked which one of us would fight him first. the king prostrated before the fire. He removed his crown and set it aside... Draupadi got up from the bed and walked towards me.. But then. the Magadhan king said.

?” I reeled sideways. sent fire through my veins. It is a move we practice in wrestling – we use a strike with the point of the elbow to crush the enemy’s windpipe. I had misread his move. slowly at first and then faster. now low. in triumph.. “Not now.” she said. and ran the fingers of her other hand along my neck. let me look.BHIMSEN 144 “Tell me. get his arms around me.. Without warning. “Is there a bruise? Wait. but I hadn’t recovered my balance yet. He roared in anger. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her down into my lap. Then he could either crush the breath out of me or use one of the . He came towards me again. I realized his aim was to try and catch me off balance. aiming for the floating ribs that are the most vulnerable. he aimed a blow with his bent arm at my throat. Tell me!” We met in the center of the ring and formally bowed to each other. He attacked—coming at me with a rush. timing my move for just when he was taking a step towards me. and even so. I lost my balance and stumbled backwards. one palm supporting the other. I met him with lowered head and arms raised in defense. we circled each other. nestling in my arms. “Tell me everything – I will tell the court singer to compose this story into a song. and then. I locked my hands together and crashed my clubbed fists into his side.. he rushed at me. Jarasandha followed with fists raised. He began to back away – and that was when I realized what I was up against. thought he was backing off. I staggered another step and. Her touch. Tell me… you were hurt. reaching out with our hands. Then. and that relaxed me just enough that when he suddenly kicked out at my knee. I will give him a plateful of gold and have him go around the kingdom. The correct block for that is with hands bent at the elbows. His blow missed its mark and crashed against the side of my neck. I roared even louder. looking for an opening. singing this. I ducked. now high.. it had enough force to hurt me badly.” Draupadi jumped to her feet. staggering more than I needed to and pretending to be more hurt than I was. arms extended in front of him. pushed my head to one side with her palm.” she said. I was taken totally by surprise. “Wait. soft as a breath.

Out of the corner of my eye I sensed that the pillar was just a couple of paces behind me now. and with one heave that took all my strength. my respect for his strength and ability only grew as we fought on. driving for his spine with both my knees. but I knew I was faster. Before he could recover. I slipped to one knee. I began counter-attacking whenever opportunity offered. I kept moving away from him. in the silence. aiming for his ribs. the yells of encouragement from Arjuna and Krishna sounded louder. I realized that Jarasandha was attacking with a purpose: he was trying to corner me against one of the iron pillars of the pavilion. I heard the crack of bone breaking. Jarasandha hurled himself head first at me. He was stronger than me. There is a smell to fresh blood – an intoxicating smell I cannot describe. I spun around and flung him to the floor face first and jumped on his back. Half-turning on my toes. I wrapped my right arm around his legs just under the knee. trying to drive the wind out of him. his stomach and chest. a new angle of attack. who were used to Jarasandha winning each bout with ease. lifting him off the floor. went quiet. I had more energy and could outlast him. or compare to anything else I know. . The spectators. concentrating on blocking his blows and evading his grasp. As I grabbed his head with both my hands and twisted his neck. He was at least three times my age. or my spine. for balance. As he stuck his hand out to keep from crashing headlong into the pillar.BHIMSEN 145 many moves we wrestlers use from that position to break my neck. straightened off my crouch. I took a step back. a great gout of blood burst out of his mouth and splashed onto my hands. palm down. concentrating on hitting him with my clenched fists. then another. but just when I thought he was nearing exhaustion he seemed to find fresh vigor. It seemed to me that he was not as confident as before – but still. It was too late for him to stop his headlong rush. I used the momentum and all my strength to dash his head and upper body against the pillar. my left hand hitting the floor.

... that when he and Arjuna rushed up to pull me away from Jarasandha’s body I was roaring still. deep. We toppled off the stool. I roared in sudden pain as Draupadi buried her face in my shoulder and bit. searing pain as her nails raked down my back. I struggled to free myself. the last thing I saw was her parted lips. My blood. I felt another sharp. that long after Jarasandha stopped struggling I was still trying to twist his head off his neck. Krishna told me later that I roared so loud the spectators in the front rank turned and fled. my arms and face and chest covered in Jarasandha’s blood.BHIMSEN 146 I don’t remember anything after that. roaring as if I wouldn’t stop—and when they tried to pull me to my feet I knocked them aside and walked out of the pavilion. stained red with blood. As I ripped her robe off her body and crushed her under my weight.

watching them at work as they cleared the debris of an eventful day.BHIMSEN 147 Episode 34 The splash of blood stood out in stark relief against the pristine purity of white marble. he invited us to enter the hall and basked in our looks of absolute amazement. I sat alone in a corner of the great hall. with a great dome reaching for the skies. a rectangle. but the arrangement of pillars will still create the illusion of a wall. “Walls block light and air. The way he used light blue bricks with . If that was astonishing. “Walls define the shape of a room. The hall was Mayan’s greatest triumph. he had fashioned bricks in various shades of blue. all of it unobtrusively designed so you never noticed just how many pillars were in each point – he had created the illusion of a room that changes shape depending on where you stood. he created the illusion that the inside of the hall was a great body of water with a square island of white marble in the center. By arranging pillars in irregular patterns on the inside – just two deep in some places. now round. when it was all done. light and air will filter through. the inside was magic. “This way. instead. It was auspicious and should be left untouched for a few days. Using these bricks in combination. The marble felt cool against the back of my legs.” he once told me in the midst of construction. heightening the illusion that I was sitting on water. all those who had come for the Rajasuya said it rivaled the palaces of the gods. Mayan had created a network of ornately carved pillars that gave the illusion of a continuous wall. The hall seemed to shift shape as you walked around—now oval. the real masterpiece was the floor. of privacy. so the servants were carefully cleaning around it. the hall seemed round. It had no walls in the conventional sense. the priests decreed. from very pale with flecks of white to very deep.” If the outside was unusual. Mayan had refused to allow us to watch the final phase of construction. now a perfect square. several deep in other places. From the outside.” he explained to me. Using the process he had once explained to me.

The Kauravas. His acceptance of the honor signaled that all kingdoms represented there had accepted Yudhishtira as their suzerain.” Some at least in the audience seemed to think Shishupala had a point. had decided not to come. even the liquid from the womb of a pregnant cow. and Draupadi as the Maharani. Kings and princes came from every other kingdom of any size. “What right does the Yadava Krishna have to the honor of being named our representative? There are many in this assembly more deserving – even you. the ritual coronation – and preparations for this had taken months. Let Bheesma be named. however. this is the man who for the sake of the consumptive Vichitravirya went to Kashi to kidnap Amba and her sisters by force. “I am not surprised – this old man has made a habit of interceding on behalf of others and being shamed. with nowhere to go – the man . we will accept him.BHIMSEN 148 stains of white was so precise you thought you were seeing little waves running across the floor towards the center. it was he who would lead the armed response. he told us. Bheesma launched into a long speech about Krishna’s many good qualities and his fitness for the high honor. After all. and none of us had anticipated any opposition—least of all from the Chedi king Shishupala. had to be installed before the coronation ceremony could begin. to participate in the ceremony that would crown Yudhishtira king of kings. filled water from every imaginable source: from all the rivers and from the two seas. a cousin of Krishna’s and ours. That poor woman ended up unwanted. two pots full of dew that had been meticulously collected over weeks. A yagnadhipan. rain water. Grandfather Bheesma was the sole representative from Hastinapura. if there was a challenge. It would be he who formally represented the assembled kings. In an attempt to soothe tempers. Duryodhana was livid that the forest he had compelled his father to palm off on us as our inheritance was transforming into a flourishing kingdom. Bheesma had discussed this with us before the ceremony. Though the ceremony starts with a grand yaga. It was in this hall that the Rajasuya was to be held. the main ritual is the pattabhishekam. Hundreds of pots were arrayed near the sacrificial fire. but Shishupala interrupted again. Grandfather Bheesma named Krishna for the honor. master of the yaga.

I shook off Arjuna’s restraining hand and marched up to Shishupala. as if none of this was happening. “I am the one who fought Jarasandha and killed him in fair combat.” .” Arjuna and I shared our concern with a glance. “It is the right of the youngest brother to anoint the yagnadhipan. and for me that is a command. the motivation is to disrupt the Rajasuya. Wherever he went. Grandfather Bheesma named Krishna. I wondered whether to intervene. The Chedi king brushed him aside and addressed Krishna directly. Sahadeva was yet to take up arms in anger. he summoned the dead king’s step brother to the bedchamber of his widows. He had been sent to make the rounds of all major kingdoms to announce the Rajasuya. If you need to be convinced. “He is a friend of Duryodhana’s. I am going to anoint Krishna now – if anyone has a problem with that. Hastinapura turned her away.” he whispered in my ear. “Because Jarasandha is dead. Kidnap. come discuss it with me.BHIMSEN 149 she loved rejected her. If I say that you and the Pandavas disguised yourself as Brahmins and killed Jarasandha by trickery. pick up your weapon and step up now. he was welcomed and showered with gifts.” The Chedi king was speaking no less than the truth – but this was neither the time nor occasion for it. apparently trying to reason with him. these other kings have come rushing here like cowards to surrender their rights to the Pandavas. “And then what did this venerable old man do? When Vichitravirya died as everyone knew he would. rape – wonderful occupations for this lifelong bachelor to indulge in!” Arjuna hurried up to where I sat. every king he met had willingly. I am ready. and she ended up committing suicide. can you deny it?” I’d had enough. unmoved. Shishupala wasn’t done yet. but Yudhishtira sat stone-faced and Krishna was calm. “This is not about Krishna. even gladly acknowledged Yudhishtira’s right to crown himself emperor. her own kingdom shut its doors on her. Bheesma went up to Shishupala. Sahadeva rose from his seat and walked up to Krishna. Shall we intervene?” Even before I could respond.

. From that point everything was a blur. Krishna rose. the chakra spinning on his finger. a great gout of blood gushed out of his neck. hand on sword hilt. the chakra spun across space.” Shishupala pointed at Krishna. splattering into the dozens of kumbhas filled with water meant for the pattabhisheka. and moved towards Krishna. Krishna strode to the center of the hall.” Shishupala brushed past me. No one moved. seeking other challengers.BHIMSEN 150 “Talk to you?” Shishupala sneered. slicing through Shishupala’s neck. “You are a lackey. his favorite weapon seemed to leap to his hand and in a flash. “I hereby challenge this cowherd’s right to be honored above kings. a puppet of this fellow here. As the Chedi king fell.

Please inform King Dhritarashtra that we gladly accept. . By all means go meet the old king.” The words were formal. Finally they came to the great hall. and they told us later that night that our cousins could barely conceal their jealousy when they saw how it was flourishing. Lord of Gods – a year after the Rajasuya.” he said. “And Yuvaraj Duryodhana has asked me to inform you that a new pleasure hall has been erected. Duryodhana raised his robes knee high and gingerly stepped forward. and tell my cousin Yuvaraj Duryodhana it will give me great pleasure to play a game against him. Duryodhana has been in a rage ever since he visited you to inspect the great hall. saying it rivalled the kingdom of Indra.” I caught the swift glance mother and Vidura exchanged. Duryodhana was the first to enter – and he was totally taken in by Mayan’s trickery. the tone was bland. He invites you to Hastinapura for a grand feast in your honor. neutral. “King Dhritarashtra has asked me to say it has been many years since he had the pleasure of greeting his nephews. it gave no hint of his thoughts. “When they extend such courtesy. “That is so kind.” The Kauravas had visited Khandavaprastha – which the people had started calling Indraprastha. we must not be remiss. I volunteered to come so I would get an opportunity to warn you against accepting. when we were all assembled in mother’s home. he and Shakuni have planned some trickery. Nakula and Sahadeva were deputed to take them around the kingdom. where we had arranged a feast for them.” Yudhishtira replied in the same formal fashion.BHIMSEN 151 Episode 35 It was uncle Vidura who had come as Hastinapura’s envoy. but avoid the game of dice. “King Yudhishtira. Thinking that water flowed across the floor. and he would be pleased if King Yudhishtira inaugurates it with a game of dice against him.

Balandhara. In this time.” As I walked out. because if mother forbade him to play then he would have to obey. But Duryodhana was livid – he stood rooted to the spot for a long moment. Anyway. We all laughed. There was no malice in our laughter. Draupadi laughed the loudest of all. “I will not request a game. calling for his chariot. “No. Yudhishtira quickly forestalled her – very clever. so don’t worry. Shudkarma and the twins Sutsoum and Sutsein. Mother. seemed about to say something. In any case. after making all that fuss about the sacredness of a mother’s word on the question of Draupadi’s marriage to all of us. Many more brides had followed her to Indraprastha: Subhadra. There had been no word from Hastinapura since that day nearly three years ago. she had already given birth to five children – Pratibimbh. and then he turned and stormed out. Duryodhana cannot defeat me at dice. “Should I pack your arms?” Arjuna had told me that morning we would not be carrying any – apparently Yudhishtira wanted to make sure no act of ours could be misinterpreted by our cousins or be cause for offense.” That was so typical of Yudhishtira. Shatanik. but if one is offered I will not decline. It was over five years since she had first come here as a young bride. I remember thinking at the time – when he wanted to do something. glaring at Draupadi. only an amusement we thought the Kauravas would share – after all. . we now have very powerful friends and allies. who had spent considerable time talking to Vidura before we were summoned. mother. we too had made the same mistake when we first entered the hall.” Visokan interrupted my recollections to tell me the others were waiting.BHIMSEN 152 the look on his face when he realized that he was walking on solid floor was priceless. it is not kshatriya dharma to refuse a challenge to combat. My brother laughed. I saw Draupadi climbing into Yudhishtira’s chariot. what can they do? They cannot kill us – the people will cause too great an uproar and besides. “Uncle. or to a game. he would find some reason in ‘dharma’ to justify it – even if the man advising him against it was the one who had taught him all he knew of the concept of dharma. I thought. until uncle Vidura had arrived with this invitation.

interrupting his amusement with a hacking cough. to help him.” I looked around the dismal room. the most desirable. Bending to touch his feet. “They tell me the statue looks like you. my son. I was told. I pushed open the door and walked up to where he lay.BHIMSEN 153 Devika. he ran his fingers over my arms. have you been to Duryodhana’s palace yet?” No. He was in bed all alone. They tell me Duryodhana calls it Bheema. We were taken straight to the audience chamber.”<>P>I laughed out loud. trying not to wince at the pervading stench of urine and dung. and seemingly enfeebled. there was no one in that hut to see to his needs. An old student of mine who left here to join your army visited me the other day. Drona and Kripa were sleeping. If you turn a wheel. When it was my turn. “Don’t worry about me – this is all I need. Tell me. Shukra was no longer in the home he had occupied when he was our guru. Shukra laughed. and the homes of the gurus. “Good. the king took each of us into his arms and blessed us with a few whispered words. her beauty glowing with the purity of a ghee-fed flame. daughter of Dyutimat the king of Magadha who was married to Sahadeva and Karenmayi. the Kekaya princess Yudhishtira had married. its arms and legs move. God bless you. I wandered off in the direction of the arsenal. and invited him to come and make his home with us in Indraprastha. You have grown into a mighty warrior. Vijaya. even as I paid my respects. Every day. my chest and shoulders. I found him grown old. He smiled. he sat up in bed and hugged me tight. and he told me of how well Indraprastha has developed. I am happy. the .” There was mischief in his eyes.” There was no sign of Duryodhana and the other Kauravas. Vidura and Sanjaya were waiting to receive us at the gates of Hastinapura. but I still get all the news. His eyes lit up. “They tell me he got a visiting sculptor to make a magical iron statue. the Chedi princess married to Nakula – and yet Draupadi still seemed the youngest.. As we paid obeisance in turn. “I am glad you came – no one comes here now except a few old mahouts. I walked out of that hovel and wandered over to the elephant paddock. and abuses it as he fights it. Hastipan. where uncle Dhritarashtra and valiyamma Gandhari awaited us. Duryodhana practices with his mace against that statue.. I said. I tracked him down to a small hovel right next to the elephant paddocks.

“We will play until one of us concedes defeat and bows to the other.” “It is against dharma for one kshatriya to issue the challenge and for another to represent him. I will place the bets. ready as always to whisper the details of all that was happening in their ears. that you are counted one of the finest players in the world. so what was the need to rush? The grand hall was fully packed when I finally got there. King Dhritarashtra and Queen Gandhari sat on thrones at the far side of the hall. .BHIMSEN 154 old mahout who had taken me under his wing when I was young was dead. A giant golden game board had been laid out on the raised dais in the center of the hall. other veterans who knew me from then crowded around. next to it rested a pair of ivory dice. Drona and Kripa sat on golden stools at a slightly lower level. Shakuni left the group of Kauravas and. “The rules of the game are familiar to all. after all. so let the game begin. all friends and allies of the Kauravas. sat at Duryodhana’s side.” Yudhishtira said. The feast was everything I knew it would be – the king’s favorite cook had not lost his touch. It was late evening when a maid entered to tell me we were awaited in the new pleasure hall.” he said. At the other end sat Yudhishtira. As I walked up to join them. Behind them stood Sanjaya. I took off the ornaments I was wearing and gave it to their chief. “I have heard that you practice every day. limping onto the dais. my brothers arrayed behind. Clearly this was to be no ordinary event. Around them were arrayed a dozen kings and princes. thinking Yudhishitira and Duryodhana would get together for a few games of dice. pitched loud enough so all could hear. “It is only a game. with Dushasana behind him.” There was an undercurrent of mockery in Duryodhana’s voice. Bheesma. At one end of the board sat Duryodhana. asking that he share with everyone. and uncle Shakuni will play in my stead. When it was over. Are you afraid to lose?” I saw my brother flush red. I bathed and dressed at leisure. “I will play. I went to my old room in the small palace to sleep. happy I had remembered them. with Karna occupying a seat of honor in their midst.” Duryodhana said. in combat or in play.

BHIMSEN 155 I realized that a trap had been laid for us. . I knew we had had fallen right into it – and I still had no idea what it was.

he had removed from around his neck the 24-strand kasimala. a laugh that was more like a sneer. He seemed as unmoved as when.BHIMSEN 156 Episode 36 “I win again!” Shakuni’s announcement was matter of fact. confident. eagerness even. startled. it would virtually empty our treasury. all of them solid gold bands embedded with priceless stones. Our brother had just wagered all the tribute we had earned during the Rajasuya. Duryodhana laughed. Yudhishtira. Are you so scared of defeat that you are content to stake such trifles?” An angry flush suffused my brother’s face. one on each finger.” my brother announced. “I now pledge these bracelets. humiliate him in front of his own court. Maybe he wanted to defeat Duryodhana. I couldn’t fathom what lay behind his desire. “If we play for each little trinket. with diamond eyes and bodies studded with rhinestones. Arjuna and I glanced at each other. “We both have more jewels than we can count. From the moment he sat down to play. we’ll be here for the next 30 days and it will make no difference to either of us. My brother removed the rings he was wearing. and handed them over. if he lost.” he said. He picked up the dice. I got up and walked out of the room. Or maybe he wanted to show us that all those hours he had spent playing dice were not a total waste of time. Yudhishtira had seemed calm. for a game everyone had warned him against. “I wager 250 chests of gold. They were shaped like snakes. I heard a subdued hum go up from . a minute earlier.” he said. As I passed through the massive doors and out into the courtyard. the necklace strung with gold coins that he had pledged as his first bet in the game.

when he couldn’t find a willing partner. king. and leave. Who had won? Who lost? I realized I didn’t care enough to turn around and go back. Where was the sport in this thing? What was the science.” he said.” a spectator pointed. Duryodhana said. the great hall – everything gone. elephants.” .” Duryodhana’s laugh cut cruelly into the silence. “there is no point in continuing the game – he is a beggar now.” “This is not fair play. “Come inside now! You have to do something. its echoes assailing me as I sat on the steps outside. “That’s right. and had to serve as cook in the palace of the winner. “Sahadeva. he has nothing more to lose. our brother has gone mad. The person who throws the bigger number wins. palaces. let’s end the game now. fury on his face. Admit you have lost. my back against one of the enormous marble pillars. a pledge was sacred. “I suspect you are using some sort of trick with the dice to win. “There he is. the skill my brother kept talking about? Why had he agreed to such a format? What was the point of all those god knows how many hours he spent playing with whoever he could find and. Nala.” Shakuni said. “In 12 throws of the dice we have lost everything: our treasury.” my brother was saying as we hurried up to where he sat. farm lands. And now he has pledged Nakula!” I realized the trap we had fallen into. As we walked back into the hall. He thought nothing of pledging Madri’s two sons. He too is now Duryodhana’s slave. who lost everything in a crooked game of dice.BHIMSEN 157 the watching spectators. bow to me. in a voice loud enough for all to hear: “We don’t compel you to play. I had heard the balladeers sing of a king. Sahadeva came running out of the hall. playing left hand against right? A roar that was almost an explosion rocked the hall. when I was young.” Shakuni only smiled. horses. our army. Two people throw the dice. the crowd roared again.” “In any case. For the kshatriya. but how can he stake his own blood brothers? You are right. our cattle.

his words were addressed to my brother. to . chilled me to the bone. “Is that it? Does the great Emperor Yudhishtira have nothing to pledge?” Duryodhana mocked my brother as he sat there. He swayed where he sat. the one they say is born to destroy the Kuru clan. this game will cause the extinction of the Kuru race.BHIMSEN 158 Yudhishtira’s voice rose. after all the hard work. Shakuni’s announcement was a roar of triumph. I didn’t need to see the dice. again. “One throw – if you win. to end this madness. And as I looked at him. I did not hear my brother’s voice. Shakuni’s eyes found and held mine. The silence in the hall was deafening. a warrior without peer in the three worlds.” Vidura’s voice cut through the crowd. He threw. ashen. Shakuni threw. matching Duryodhana in volume. which was now in a state of constant ferment. I knew my brother had lost. I have no idea what I wanted to say – something. I sat down on the dais behind my brother.” My brother pledged himself. “I win! Again!” Shakuni’s voice cut into my thoughts. staring at the dice. more than everything that had happened in that hall till then.. then crumpled in a faint. The old king was leaning forward on his throne. “I have won!” This time.. “O King. but he must have agreed. he smiled – a smile that.” I don’t know what prompted me. I didn’t need to hear Shakuni’s triumphant cry. “You still have a brother – the most powerful warrior in the world. anything. everything you lost is yours again. I pledge him on the next throw. those sightless white orbs focused intently in the direction of the players – you could have been fooled into thinking he could see. this was to be our fate: to return to Hastinapura shorn of all we had won over the years. So after all this strife. “My wealth is endless. for an instant later I heard the clatter of dice hitting the game board. “Behold Arjuna. an awful weight that seemed to press down on my head.” he said.” In the din. but I glanced across at Dhritarashtra then. leaned over to whisper in his ear.

shame. Vidura. Stake the princess of Panchala.. Duryodhana and Shakuni had their heads close together. He sat there. whispering. I thought. There was nothing I could do. I didn’t catch the words but the tone was clear – anger blazed hot as Duryodhana made his suggestion. carefully so. but it was Duryodhana’s voice that pierced the silence. “Play one more hand. I jumped to my feet and strode towards him. I shut my eyes. all you have lost is yours and the crown of Hastinapura besides. his voice a low-pitched tremor of defeat. Draupadi the peerless.” His voice trailed off into mocking laughter. He threw. may she restore my lost fortune to me.. be sent to fetch her. She can wash my clothes. If you win. wife to the five Pandavas. head down. The silence assailed my ears. accepting my fate.BHIMSEN 159 serve in the palace as Duryodhana’s bonded slaves. Yudhishtira had recovered from his faint. In my state of helpless stupor. equal to Mahalaxmi herself – I pledge her.” The crowd erupted. I caught the glint of tears in the corner of his eye. I bowed my head. as Shakuni picked them up and rolled them around in his hands. “I will not turn back now. I waited for Shakuni’s roar of triumph. slumped. clean my rooms. “Draupadi. And in the nights.” Yudhishtira said. “Where is Draupadi? The Maharani of Indraprastha – where is she? Let that son of a servant girl.” The sound of rolling dice sounded like a drumbeat in the sudden silence. “Aren’t you forgetting your greatest treasure?” Duryodhana’s voice was neutral. . Then a muted rattle. helplessness. no protest I could make without undermining the authority of one who was both my elder brother and my king.

the people of Hastinapura who stood there. scantily covered by a light robe the lower half of which was stained with her blood. And yet. do you in your wisdom endorse this? Will you suffer this outrage in silence?” Her eyes roamed over the assembly – the elders on their thrones. and Kripa. by force if he had to. in my state?” Her voice was loud and clear. “Why have I been dragged to this assembly of men. “We have no option but to suffer this – for Yudhishtira. The great hall was enveloped in a hush. “I see Bhisma here. his word is bigger than all else. the anger I had been fighting to control boiled over. without the slightest throb of fear. She looked at Yudhishtira. “Even in the colony of prostitutes there are men who drink and gamble and who live off their women – but even those men will never pawn their women. When the servitor returned without her it was Karna. not Duryodhana. the gloating Kauravas. holding Draupadi by her hair. and held. every eye on the tableau in the center where Dushasana stood. and contempt flamed in her eyes. even so she held her head up. stake them on a throw of the dice and hand them over to another…” . And then her eyes sought mine. and Vidura and other wise men – tell me.BHIMSEN 160 Episode 37 My eyes remained riveted on the drops of blood that stood out stark against the gleaming white marble of the floor. proud like a queen even in despite of her shame. stunned into silence by the events. And then. who ordered Dushasana to go into the inner chamber and bring her to the assembly. and Drona. sitting there on the dais with his head hanging low in shame.” I said. Draupadi stood in his grasp. We are all slaves now.

Just then. I had never taken much note of him before. When Yudhishtira pledged and lost himself. arm raised. anger and sorrow driving me over the edge. those so-called warriors. “I say this for all of you to hear. “One day I will crack this fellow’s chest open and I will drink his blood – this I swear!” In the sudden hush. without waiting to be asked. A slave owns no property. “Duryodhana is your elder brother – how dare you question his actions in public? Learn from the Pandavas – see how they stand. this kingdom!” Karna ignored him. One by one. I surged forward. “What right do your slaves have to wear robes of silk and ornaments of gold? Order them to remove their royal robes…” Yudhishtira rose to his feet. “I say she is not. is a crime that defiles this assembly and all in it. strong young man. He caught my eye and shook his head. turned to Duryodhana. Dushasana let go of Draupadi’s hand and caught hold of her robe where it was tied just below the navel.” I roared. our robes and ornaments and threw them on the pile. the youngest of the Kauravas. “To drag a woman – any woman. At a nod from Karna. I pushed him aside. stained in her menstrual blood. the rest of us took off our sashes. my clan. he became a slave – what right did he have to then pledge Draupadi?” Karna pointed a finger at Vikarna. to see Arjuna beside me. let alone a queen of royal lineage – into an assembly of men and to display her there. and it will destroy this family. said. Karna came between us.” Vikarna shot back. from the midst of the Kauravas.” Vikarna. standing erect and fearless in the face of Karna’s anger. but I did so now – a tall. a young man stepped out. a voice rang out from the assembled spectators. “The question of whether Yudhishtira had any right to stake Queen . It is a great wrong that has been done. “This is my family. “The question is whether Queen Draupadi is my brother’s slave. contempt in his eyes. has no rights over anything else. captive to their elder brother’s word!” Vikarna looked at Karna. and threw them down on the floor.BHIMSEN 161 I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned. silently removed the sash from round his waist and the silk robe draped over his shoulders. with a hand on the hilt of his sword. not yours – and I will not see it destroyed to feed your lust.

left without a choice—our future was uncertain. . and it was me he was looking at. just yes. “There is a point to what Vikarna said. when an argument broke out between Prahalada and Kashyapa…” An angry hum erupted from the spectators – they seemed in no mood for ancient tales. he bared his left thigh. “Forget these ancient tales and arguments – answer. If he is a slave. Let the wise ones. and I will free them now. he is our guru and our sovereign. she is my property. “But there are two ways of looking at this. we lost too. Karna looked impatient. his voice subdued. and every single one of your brothers. I will personally kill you.BHIMSEN 162 Draupadi has not been cleared up. to do with as I like.” Glancing at Draupadi. respond…” All eyes turned to Vidura. “The only person who can answer this is Yudhishtira himself. his eyes on the floor. or no! If you disown her.” Bhisma said. then we are slaves as well. but Duryodhana was clearly enjoying the byplay. When he lost. Duryodhana. slapped it with his hand in lascivious invitation.” he said. this was no time for dissension in the family. Bhisma and Vidura. “Can you say in this open assembly that Draupadi is not your wife?” he challenged Yudhishitra. Else. “Let Bheema and Arjuna and Nakula and Sahadeva and Draupadi proclaim here that Yudhishtira has no rights over them. my slave. I knew what answer I wanted to make but I felt trapped. she is free to go. When Yudhishitra lost and became your slave. and she is now yours to do with as you will.” Duryodhana was clearly enjoying his cat and mouse game.” It was the same voice as before. “These arguments are futile – it is the law of the land that the property of a slave belongs to his master.” our uncle responded.” “What is this nonsense?” Karna strode over to Duryodhana. “Yudhishtira is our elder brother. I swear this in the name of my ancestors. “Today these arms are helpless – but my time will come and on that day. “Let Bhismacharya decide. I raised my clenched fists in the air. But…” My anger boiled over again. Long ago. his property became yours – this woman is his property.

The blind king raised her up. Yudhishtira was the last. walked in her blood-stained robe through the hall and towards the door. a servitor came running out of the hall. immeasurably aged in the space of these few hours. “At her request. this is his personal invitation. seemingly oblivious of the staring multitudes. alone. Sahadeva jumped off the chariot and ran up to where Yudhishtira sat. ran over to where Dhritarashtra sat on his throne. her eyes set on the distant horizon. freed. she is as dear to me as the wives of my own sons. “Don’t go! You cannot win against Sakuni – you said yourself.” Karna went up to Duryodhana. One by one. I order her freed!” A collective sigh of relief enveloped the hall. I order her husbands. ignored Duryodhana and. in a third. and took his seat. Vikarna was organizing chariots for us.BHIMSEN 163 All of a sudden. “Draupadi is like my daughter. we climbed on board the chariots. she said something to him in a voice that did not carry to the rest of us. Just then. no longer caring what happened. and fell at his feet.” the old king announced. Draupadi broke free of Dushasana’s grip. the two of them strode over to where Dhritarashtra said. head in Draupadi’s lap. “King Dhritarashtra said I should tell you. Outside. together. I shrugged. Mother lay beside her. One by one. the sons of my brother Pandu. arguing heatedly. addressing all of us.” . Draupadi was already seated in one. “You have been invited for one more game of dice.” he said. broken. Draupadi spoke again to the king. Draupadi bent to touch the old king’s feet. her face carved of stone. head held high and proud. She seemed crushed. he is cheating…” Nakula looked at me. “Who invited us?” Yudhishtira asked. we followed. he walked past our chariot and the one mother and Draupadi were in. “The lands and treasures that Yudhishtira lost will remain the property of my son Duryodhana.

Nakula and Sahadeva came running out of the hall. “We lost again. One throw of the dice. Nakula and Sahadeva followed.BHIMSEN 164 Yudhishtira got down from the chariot and walked back into the hall. “The forest is not a bad place. “Get me Sura. “We will survive – and then our time will come. “It’s all over.” . We are to be exiled to the forest for 12 years. I turned to one of the servitors. bring me a full skin. it is back to the forest for 12 more years.” Nakula said. Minutes passed.” I grabbed the skin of Sura from the servitor and drank. and we’ve lost our lives.” I shrugged. deep. If we are discovered.” I ordered. then we have to live incognito for another year.

BHIMSEN 165 Episode 38 It was long past the monsoon season. When she saw her brother. Draupadi maintained a stoic calm—a facade she shed when Dhristadyumna came to visit us. Draupadi could have gone with her brother since the exile only applied to us. “I spoke to her. and the children had been sent to King Drupada’s palace. where Dhristadyumna had taken charge of their upbringing. Dhristadyumna took her up in his chariot and they drove off deep into the forest. staying with us in the forest for days at a time and helping us ease the pain of exile. Our other wives had gone back to their own homes. Uncle Vidura had come away with us when we left Hastinapura for the last time—the result of a fierce quarrel with Dhritarashtra when the king. “I told her that our time will come. and yet the rain came down in torrents. where Draupadi lived and where the cooking fires kept the insides dry and warm. Through it all. We started our exile in the forests of Kamyaka. Our maids and servitors had voluntarily joined us in exile. As I watched her walk towards the river for her evening bath. she broke down and for the first time since I had known her. at Duryodhana’s urging. Mother had decided to live with uncle Vidura during the term of our exile. it was late in the evening before they returned. It was only after Sanjaya came as emissary from Hastinapura to say the king was sorry for all he had said and had requested Vidura to return that he consented to go back. invited Yudhishtira for that last game of dice.” he told me later that night. I saw her cry. we took to gathering in the largest hut. Our wooden huts with their thatched roofs became too sodden for comfort. clad only in deerskin. taking our mother with him. that you and Arjuna and I will be avenged on the Kauravas for all they made her suffer. but she refused. and at first it was no hardship. I couldn’t help thinking she had reconciled to life in exile far better than the rest of us.” . and a constant stream of relatives and friends came visiting.

“For all your learning. “My only consolation is my brother. her voice trailed off into a sob that broke my hear. it was during a chance visit to Drupada after the battle that he learnt of our plight. but Draupadi’s face cleared as if by magic. the seas can dry up. “That race will pay in blood for the humiliation you endured. from these five husbands of mine. soothing her like a child. “I would never have permitted you to play at dice.” Draupadi shook her head in disbelief.” Krishna told Yudhishtira.” It sounded insufferably pompous to me. who sat with his head bowed.” he said to her. Krishna. Krishna drew her aside. “Listen to me and know that it is. tears streaming down her face. I can see the past. “I don’t expect anything. to stake his brothers and his own wife like so much cattle is dharma. struggling to hide his chagrin. “By insulting you. He and Balarama had led the Yadavas in battle against Shalya. how could you give your enemies a chance to undo all your hard work at Indraprastha?” “Oh. didn’t you know? His word is sacred above all else – even his wife. that you whose blood stained the marble halls of Hastinapura will one day walk in the blood of your enemies.” Krishna was unaware of our visit to Hastinapura. the Kauravas have paved the way for their own doom. that says this. That was always Krishna’s strength – he knew how to use words. any more. to watch with arms folded while his wife is dragged by her hair…” Grief and rage combined to choke her. the future – and I tell you today. his hand caressing her head. you will rule Hastinapura as its queen – this is my promise. .” he told her. and Draupadi trusted him in a way she never trusted us. the present. the heavens can come crashing down to earth but my words will never prove false. and you – it is from you that I expect justice. he is Dharmaraja. “The mountains can crumble into dust.” she told Krishna.BHIMSEN 166 And then Krishna came—and it was Draupadi he sought out first. of the game of dice and our exile. Draupadi.” Draupadi’s words were laced with venom. how could you make such a mistake. “Dharma is the shield behind which he hides – to play at dice is dharma. to lose all that his brothers had earned through their hard work is dharma.

taunted. and tried to convince her of the folly of taking on such hardship.BHIMSEN 167 Something changed in Draupadi that day. was dismissed. then let us learn to live the life of exiles. implacable. “The night before the game of dice. she called all the servants and maids to her. . he was determined to do exactly as he pleased. maybe even our lives. the sudden blaze of passion in her eyes – those things about her that could set my pulse pounding seemed like figments of a fevered imagination. he had come to talk to me. laboring over the fire as she cooked our evening meal.” She was changing before my eyes. The softness that could suffuse her face and make you want to reach out in a caress. But no. When Yudhishtira objected. the tiny little quirk at the corner of her lips. as he always does. I told him we would end up losing all we had. I begged. stained in my menstrual blood.” Later that evening. invited to share the bed of our enemies. and what I got was a lecture on kshatriya dharma. all that was forgotten. her response was terse: “If exile is the fate we choose to invite on ourselves. “Our king. and pointed out that she had no need to take on herself the burden of cooking and caring for us. It was as if she had deliberately set out to erase all that was gentle. cold. I found her alone. The next morning. all that was feminine about her – and what was left behind was a shell of the woman I loved above all else: hard. nearly led to your death in the house of lac. your brother. and told them to return to their homes in Indraprastha. was dragged into that assembly of men. thanks to the hard work of Nakula and Sahadeva. who showed a willingness to hang around. forgets too easily. he would not listen. too. give him a few servants to see to his comfort and someone to play dice with and discuss dharma with and he will forget the humiliation of Hastinapura. But once he got Indraprastha to lord over. I cried. led to you wandering through the forest in fear of your lives.” she told me. “Give him time. I pleaded with him not to play. “His willful insistence on doing things his own way cost you your place in Hastinapura. Even Visokan. I told him it was a trap. He will forget how I.

I will not let him forget – not until I wash away my humiliation in a river of blood. Let him suffer hardship and privation for twelve years.BHIMSEN 168 “Not this time – this time. let him live with no one around to distract him from the memories of his own folly. I will not let him forget. and mine. If I do nothing else I will do this – I will keep the memory of that day alive in his heart.” .

we haven’t been able to find a single holy man to help us with our rituals. He had looked after her and the son born to her since then – and when he heard that I was in the forest. and found Kirmiran waiting for me in the clearing. . and for that you must die. I stood there. he had determined to kill me in revenge for all that I had made her suffer. It was not because of Bakan that he was here. Our little camp in the Kamyaka forest was in an uproar when I returned from a hunt the previous evening. he said. If I didn’t meet him.BHIMSEN 169 Episode 39 The food was good: deer meat cooked in pig fat. washed down with wine made of fermented sugarcane. Yudhishtira saw me first and gave me the news. a brother of Bakan. which is how he contemptuously referred to all tribals. I ate with an appetite heightened by the sudden release of tension: it was a battle I had set out for that morning. not a feast. Kill him – we cannot live in fear while we are here. I learnt. “He kills the saints and sadhus who make their home in this forest – in all this time. stunned. he would return and kill everyone. I learnt that he was a Nishada.” he said. who he wanted to marry. and he had long had his eye on Hidimbi. Kirmiran and Hidimban were friends. He had heard of our battle in Ekachakra from some of Bakan’s people who were there at the time. pregnant and alone. He was away near the Himalayas at the time. but for the sake of Hidimbi. A ‘rakshasa’. He rushed to offer Hidimbi his protection and found her wandering in the forest. “You abandoned her and her baby.” I set off for the river next morning. had stormed into camp earlier in the evening and given an ultimatum: he was going to kill me in battle. and would wait for me next morning in the clearing by the river.” Yudhishtira said. and knew that I had killed his brother in fair fight. and it was only much later that he heard Hidimban had been killed. “He is evil.

“Where are they now?” Kirmiran told me that he had taken them to the foothills of the Himalayas. was still constantly in my thoughts. will lead that army into battle.” We went to his camp. without going into detail. “You should have gone to war with the Kauravas – why did you accept exile?” I explained. and I cannot deprive her of that. why did you not send for her? In all this time.” I told him and. “We have been banished to the forest for 12 years. “When you built your kingdom in Indraprastha. It started innocently enough: Yudhishtira had started one of . “I heard of what happened to you in Hastinapura.” It was very late when I returned to our camp.” “Why did you abandon her?” he demanded. I will make it a point to find my wife and son. Ghatotkacha. Ghatotkacha.” Kirmiran told me as we ate and drank. Kirmiran told me.” I told Kirmiran. I told him that Hidimbi. a heated argument had broken out between my brothers. went off to my hut. you never once returned to the forest to seek her out. “You are the only support my wife has.” Ghatotkacha—I smiled to myself at the mental vision the name conjured up. We talked. one day he will make you proud. “What happened?” he asked.BHIMSEN 170 “I will not fight you. “I just cannot take it here any more. to find out how she was doing…” I explained my helplessness. “He is growing into a strong young man.” he told me. “You have a son now. “I’ll seek them out. the first woman I had loved and taken to bed. late into the afternoon.” I said.” While I was away. “I’m leaving camp early tomorrow. brother. “Is he dead?” “He won’t cause any more trouble. of a young lad with a hairless.” he said. “We have people all over – we will raise an army and come to fight on your side. pot-shaped head. where a group of Nishadas had given them shelter. Yudhishtira came up to me as soon as I entered the clearing. send word to me. And your son. where he prepared a meal for me. When your time comes. Arjuna came to see me late that night.

new techniques of battle. why did you not repudiate me in the assembly. Yudhishtira was waiting outside his hut. what is the point of arguing about it endlessly? The last time we were in exile.” “Brother.BHIMSEN 171 his inevitable lectures on dharma. don’t quarrel with him again. Duryodhana knows that – that is why he tried to get us to repudiate our brother that day in the assembly. This time. Seek his blessings. “But what is done is done. I couldn’t take it – how can he hide his own wrong-doing under the excuse that we should have repudiated him? I told him that the fact that we had values could not be used as a cover for his own lack of values. that is why I waited for you to return. I want to visit those lands. we did not know when or how it would end. our exile is not limitless – it will end and our time for revenge will come. just like your cattle?” “I did what I thought was right at the time. as Duryodhana asked you to do? You could have said I was wrong. I picked up my spear and hunting knife and set off to hunt. All of you stayed quiet then. and he would have set you free. “But he is right – war will come. We cannot afford to be a house divided – mother is right. “If you thought I was wrong.” he sighed. You could have fought them— I would have done nothing to stop you. I advised him.” . In any case. All this while. We argued. Arjuna. I leave early tomorrow morning – I wanted your blessings. I’ll use this time to prepare for the battle that will come – I’ve heard of far off lands where they have developed new weapons.” Arjuna told me that night. explain to him why you have to go – and whatever you do. “But when he said that.” Yudhishtira responded. it became very ugly.” Next morning. we slept in peace because he was around. and that is why I refused. and he is wise to use this time to prepare himself. that is why I supported him. “Does your dharma teach you that your brothers and your wife are your possessions. I can’t stay here any more – I feel suffocated. learn all that I can.” I told him. “Under what law of dharma does a man stake his wife on a game of dice?” he had demanded. “Arjuna has gone.” See Yudhishtira before you go. and now you blame me for everything!” “He is our elder brother and I owe him my respect.” “I agree. you have more patience than I. and Sahadeva had challenged him. our unity is our biggest strength. “Don’t go without telling him.

“Magnificent! What a splendid creature!” I spun around. holding its hooves in my hands. On a whim I decided to go to the river first for a bath. Hunting for food was necessary. I could spend that time curing the skin and dyeing it with colors strained from the flowers that grew profusely along the river bank. Judging by the length of its stride. immobile. It had not occurred to me that this was that time of evening when she routinely went for her bath – or maybe deep inside I knew. startled by the sound of a voice where I had thought myself alone. It leaped high in the air. it was a giant. I stood tense. but I took no pleasure in it. I swung the stag off my shoulders and set it down on the bank. and thudded back to earth. I picked up the sign of a full-grown stag. A great gush of blood spouted from its neck. its point taking the beast just under the jaw. Where was the skill in hiding downwind near some body of water and killing a deer that had come to drink? This was different – the stag was the size of a young foal. and that was why I had decided to come to the river. tall and proud. It was a magnificent specimen. I thought. I held my breath as it flashed through the air. the sweep and spread of its antlers proclaiming its age. threw down my spear and knife and pulled off my robe. I ran up. grabbed the shaft of the spear and yanked it out. I waited for it to ebb and then. It had been a while since I had a chance to use the skills I had learnt from the Nagas. and I had taken great care with my aim so as not to spoil the hide. I crawled through the bushes downwind of him till I got within range. and saw Draupadi walking down the path towards me. and driving through into its brain. moving with easy majesty up the slope of a small hill. and perfected during my time with Hidimbi. The skin will make a nice dress for Draupadi.BHIMSEN 172 That day. I threw myself into the hunt. swung it onto my shoulder and began walking towards camp. Carefully testing the wind. tracking the stag patiently for hours before I glimpsed him. once. There was enough meat on it to last us for a few days. hurled it with all my strength. with the short spear poised and ready – and just when he turned his head to one side to sniff the air. .

Yudhishtira was sitting outside his hut. he brought me word of my wife and son.BHIMSEN 173 I grabbed my robe and held it up in front of me. pulled her hard against me. his back against the doorpost. “Rules! He has broken so many of them – do you think he’ll really mind if we break one?” She tugged the robe out of my hands. It was very late when we walked back to the camp.” “No – I didn’t need to fight. She pushed me away. He was a friend of Hidimban’s. She laughed. If he thought anything of us coming back together. threw it aside and sank down to the soft grass of the river bank. now stained red with the blood of the stag that had spilt over my skin. She turned it over and looked at it. pulling me down with her. Draupadi laughed and came closer. Your first love… you still think of her. staring off into space. no conviction. he gave no sign. “Have you forgotten it is the maharaj’s turn?” I hastily let her go. “So why didn’t you fight him?” “Who?” “Kirmiran. palm rubbing lightly over my shoulder.” I put my arm around her waist.” “Ah yes – the jungle woman. I thought you would come back with the story of a battle to tell. her hands against my chest – but there was no strength in that push. . her hand reaching out. don’t you?” “It’s you I think about – especially at night.

find shady places to rest up in during the day and lead the way when we marched at night. for instance. he had his fill of the company of priests and saints. only the changing seasons mattered.” he said. Yudhishtira. So we travelled endlessly. miserable and not knowing what I could do about it. Draupadi was an automaton. partly in hope of favors to come. Krishna said.BHIMSEN 174 Episode 40 Time had very little meaning for me. In summers. your reputation spreads among the priestly class. we were trekking from one holy site to the next. who had seemed morose in camp. focused on organizing our supplies and meals. especially one who is prone to conducting religious ceremonies and is open-handed and generous in doling out alms. the science of horse-craft and of civic administration. was the happiest among us: at each holy place. He was in no position now to be generous but they all flocked to him anyway – partly in remembrance of favors past. and weeks and months lost all meaning. he would be . “We have 12 years to spend. Mother was fine. the Vrishni Satyaki. It was while we were camped on the banks of the Ganga. refining strategies and tactics. So I trudged along in their wake. he had visited her at uncle Vidura’s place. Subhadra and Abhimanyu were happy at Dwaraka. I could think of far better ways of spending that time – practicing our war craft. on the lookout for caves and other forms of shelter. that Krishna came visiting with Balarama and their good friend. But after that showdown that ended with Arjuna leaving us. we might as well spend it in pilgrimage. At Yudhishtira’s urging. I had to figure out how to conserve our energies. Nakula and Sahadeva were happy enough: they spent their time immersed in discussions of their favorite topics. I went further ahead. near Prabhasa thirtha. I had promised myself I wouldn’t argue with my brother. When the rains came. They all knew him or at least knew of him – when you are a king.

Our talk inevitably turned to the end of our exile. I discovered that his fondness for good food and liquor was the equal of mine—and he had thoughtfully brought several bags of good Soma in his chariot. we crossed rivers and mountain ranges. and the war that would follow. He was traveling in the south. and planned to end his travels at the Gandhamadana mountain. Balaram and Yudhishtira were engrossed in discussing the politics of the time and the petty wars that broke out from time to time among neighboring kingdoms. He even looked a lot like me physically: tall. very broad-chested. I found Satyaki a man after my own heart. “You should travel south and meet up with Arjuna there. the mendicant said. Seasons came and went. A day later. Balarama and Satyaki traveling east to visit with King Drupada and Yuvraj Dhristadyumna. with the Gandhamadhana as our goal. new arts of war. The balladeers sang of it often. The songs hadn’t prepared me for how big the . vast forests and great plains until we finally arrived at the foot of Gandhamadhana.BHIMSEN 175 visiting King Drupada next. the king of Ayodhya. We engaged in wrestling bouts and went hunting in his chariot. it was supposed to be located in the extreme southern tip of the country. He spent a considerable amount of time talking with Draupadi. a wandering mendicant brought news of Arjuna. A day later. I had heard of the place. they said that it was the mountain Ram. “We have to plan. even though he continued to instruct Duryodhana in the art of the mace. where his wife Sita was being held captive. with muscular arms and legs. to make preparations for war. and would pass on word about us to Dhristadyumna.” Krishna said.” Krishna advised. Balarama wandered off – he was emotionally attached to both camps and preferred to stay neutral. in the songs of the balladeers was the son of Vaayu the god of wind and therefore my elder brother – had rested his foot on before launching his titanic jump across the ocean to the kingdom of Ravana. had stood on and looked across the sea at Lanka. visiting various kingdoms there and learning of new weapons. but that can wait till Arjuna returns. the mountain on which Hanuman – who. we parted – Krishna. while we set off south.

” We were still less than halfway up the mountain. clearing the branches I had cut down and helping Draupadi negotiate the tougher portions of the climb. making us wet and miserable while the ground was slippery with wet mud. I walked ahead with an axe. wishing my mace and bow were not wrapped in the bundle Sahadeva was carrying. rising up like a giant needle pointing straight at the sky. I stood in their way. helplessness in her eyes. some 20 or so.BHIMSEN 176 mountain was: if it was not as tall as some of the mountains in the Himalayas. though the thick canopy of leaves kept most of the rain out. “My foot hurts. test it to see that the ground was firm. It was the height of the monsoons. and saw a sign of movement under the trees behind us. “Who’s there?” I hefted my axe in one hand and pulled my hunting knife with the other. covering Draupadi and my brothers. stepped out from the shelter of the trees and came towards us. I was battling with a particularly difficult stretch when I heard Yudhishtira cry out. making it doubly difficult was the dense forest that shrouded its sides. Even if I could carry her the rest of the way. I cannot climb. while Yudhishtira brought up the rear. Every step we took needed extreme care: plant a foot in front. I glanced up. there was no way I could manage her weight while simultaneously clearing a path for us through vegetation that was growing denser as we climbed. Draupadi looked up at me. I realized it was going to be a very difficult climb. Nakula and Sahadeva came after. “She fell. A group of tribals. “I am Bhima. it was impossibly steep.” Nakula told me. cutting down branches and the dense brambles to clear a path and gouging footholds in the rock where needed. Who are you?” . I turned. then take the next step… progress was painfully slow. and a little way down saw my brothers clustered around Draupadi. water dripped down on us constantly. the Pandava from Hastinapura.

we have to get to the top of the mountain before the storm breaks. “Come. The boy watched us for a while. with an air authority far beyond his years.” the boy said. With their knives. a knife hung at his waist. “We will carry her up the mountain and the rest of you can follow. “It is the rainy season and there is a very big storm coming. almost childish. When Yudhishtira showed signs of slowing down. He was clad only in a loin cloth. As we watched. using a flat stone as base and the butt end of their spears as pestles. “We need to hurry. then turned to his companions and spoke sharply in their strange-sounding language. and returned a short time later carrying thick branches and armloads of jungle vine. His companions ran away into the forest. A young lad stepped out from their midst. Two others were busy grinding some leaves and roots. the boy stopped in his tracks. face but in all other respects he was a man.” he said. under falling trees…” We looked at one another. two of his fellows ran down to . He helped Draupadi into the palanquin his fellows had fashioned. clearing the way for us. Slung on his back were three spears.” he said. yet he spoke with an air of command. the tribals worked with remarkable skill.” Draupadi hesitated. “This is not a good time to climb the mountain. muscles like thick ropes stood out on his legs and arms. The boy set out in front with a few others. He had a boyish. The boy took the paste they had made. four of them picked up the ends of the poles and hoisted it on their shoulders. they pared away the rough bark of the branches. He was easily the youngest in the group.” I told the boy.” He barked out an order in his language. fashioning in short order a throne mounted on two thick poles. you can get trapped in landslides. smoothing them out while others braided the vine to form the seat. The tribals set a frantic pace. “We have to get to the top of Gandhamadhana. and very gently applied it on Draupadi’s swollen ankle. walked past me and stood looking down at Draupadi as she lay prostrate on the ground.BHIMSEN 177 The tribals talked to one another in a language I couldn’t understand. “The lady can sit in this. unsure what to do.

we saw the first signs of fruit trees and flowering bushes. and smiled. We had reached the top of Gandhamadhana.” “I didn’t help you in hope of reward. “I am the son of Hidimbi.” he said. Almost without warning. come to us – I will reward you for your help. The tribals set the palanquin down. and food.” the boy said. And then he turned to where I stood. “Over there is an ashram. Your son. I have nothing to give you in return for your help—we are away from our kingdom just now. Gradually. we broke out of the forest and into a clearing. the trees began thinning. . smoke and other signs of human habitation. king. Walking up to me. too stunned to react.BHIMSEN 178 Yudhishtira and. There is nothing we need from you. “You will find shelter there. as if he were talking to an equal. taking his arms around their shoulders. But when you hear that we are back. hustled him along. the boy turned to follow.” he said.” His companions had already begun walking back the way they had come. king of Indraprastha. he bent low to touch my feet. “My name is Ghatotkacha. in the distance we could see a cluster of huts. “I am Yudhishtira.” He rose and swiftly slipped away into the forest while I stood there.

The wet clothes clinging tight to the body. leaving the camp early in the morning and returning late in the evening just in time for the communal dinner that Draupadi supervised. Yudhishtira was feeling sufficiently himself again. He was in his elements – the days were filled with endless philosophical discussions. whose imagination conjured up a great battle between the combined forces of Kubera on the one hand and me alone on the other. the pale golden glow of sandal paste on her forehead and her arms – after all these years. I sat with my back against the door of my hut and watched Draupadi as she walked back to camp after her bath and prayers. a small blue lotus-shaped flower cupped in her hands. she still stirred lust. washing our camp in a pale. burying my nose in the flower she held in her cupped palms – not because I cared a hoot for such things. I bent over. and they didn’t say. I was bored – and boredom more than anything else was responsible for an incident that in later years was considerably distorted by the balladeers. The twins spent their time together. the Saugandhika. now that we were established in a semi-permanent camp amidst the natural beauty of Gandhamadhan.’ she said. There was no news of Arjuna. and at night he had Draupadi. The old rules were back. lustrous hair hanging free down her back. . and now that the dangers of the forest were behind us and he was surrounded by the sadhus and saints who had made the mountain top their home. ready once more to assert his authority in all the things that he thought mattered. Looking and lusting was all I could do for now.BHIMSEN 179 Episode 41 The full moon hung improbably low just above the tree tops. None of us knew where they were going and what they were up to all day – we didn’t ask. the freshly washed. holding it out. It started one evening when Draupadi came up to me. It was calculated that it was my elder brother’s turn to play husband. cool light. ‘Look.

At first imperceptibly. then shrugged. grab the spear of the soldier on that side and wrest it out of his grasp.” Un-hunh? So? “Can you get me some? Please? Even after plucking they last for a long time. Draupadi gave me one of those up-from-under looks that are part of a woman’s arsenal of seduction. I dozed for a while and then set out again – and as dusk fell. making threatening gestures with the points of their spears. I thought to myself. the air all around was filled with the fragrance of the Sougandhika. mumbling something about the smell being nice. and I suddenly found myself in a clearing.BHIMSEN 180 but because I loved to touch her. nearby. I mentally worked out my moves: the sole of my right foot hard onto the knee of the soldier on that side. When they saw me they jumped up and came towards me. its surface entirely covered with the lovely blue flowers. then . deep into the forest. then overpoweringly. At some point. but her words were innocent enough. staring at a scene of surpassing beauty. When I straightened. and Kubera has an army standing guard to keep anyone from plucking them. As they surrounded me. A small marble pavilion had been erected at one end. I walked for hours. simultaneously lean to the left.” she said. and had made it my private game to devise seemingly innocent ways of doing that. three soldiers lolled around on the grass. An enormous pool fed by a mountain stream stretched out before me. What else was there to do anyway? Early next morning. “One of the hermits told me that this must be from a lake owned by the king Kubera. There was a knowing smile lurking in her eyes. “It seems the whole lake is filled with these flowers. The trees thinned. I’m told – it would be lovely to have this fragrance in my room all the time…” You mean Yudhishtira’s room. realized I was nearing my destination. use the blunt end in a hard thrust at his groin. I set out in the direction the hermits had pointed out. Meal over. I set a little trap. caught myself a rabbit and cooked it over a small fire.

they had a half-filled goatskin of alcohol to keep them company. I stood there. maybe have a swim? They shrugged and walked back towards the pavilion where. I came upon this place by accident. I told them. I vaguely thought of overpowering the soldiers and heading back to camp. beckoned me to come out. I now saw. “Will you wait here till I come back?” I nodded and.” the official said. To plan how I would take those men out was second nature. and walked off into the forest. to kill them. holding my breath for as long as I could before kicking back up towards the surface – and found I now had company. just wandering around. but my brothers and I are living in a camp with the hermits of Gandhamadhana. the Pandava.” “I’ve heard something of your story. Can I drink some water from the stream. I’m a pilgrim. Our camp at Gandhamadhana had more than its share of places to swim in – there was a river flowing nearby and at least two large ponds. wrapping my robe around me. but the official . Three quick moves.BHIMSEN 181 drive the point at the throat of the man in front of me. As night deepened and the air got cold. and it would be over. or its purity and sweetness.” “From Hastinapura?” “Yes. but nothing compared to the crisply cold feeling of this water on my skin. settled down with my back against the cool marble of the pavilion. unmoving. I dived deep. I stripped off and jumped in the lake. gasping at the unexpected cold and then reveling in the tingling feeling all over my body as the blood rushed to nerve endings numbed by the sudden shock. when I surfaced. “Who are you?” “I am Bhima. The official asked the three soldiers to keep an eye on me. each an extension of the other. but I had no reason to engage these men. A tall man in the robes and headdress of an important official stood at the end of the pond and.

” While he exchanged polite nothings with the official. Ghatotkacha. I wasn’t prepared for the group that walked out of the forest and came towards me: the official I had expected. and I had given my word. he set off on the route back to camp. I held them out for her. Ghatotkacha came upon Sahadeva in the forest and offered to show him the way to the pond and just then. It was early evening when I heard voices in the distance. very attentive. Morning came. “I am expecting word from my brother Arjuna. in the regal style that was almost like his second skin. Draupadi told him that I had gone in search of the Saugandhika. with Draupadi at his side.” he said. So my brother sent Nakula and Sahadeva off to look for me.” the official told my brother. just a day’s march from here. So I stayed. Kubera’s official arrived in the camp. may I invite all of you to visit with him? He will be pleased to extend his hospitality to the famed Pandavas – you can stay there in far more comfort…” Yudhishtira. Walking over to where Draupadi stood. the hermits filled his head with stories of how Kubera’s army guarded the pond and killed anyone who went there. “and need to be there when his messenger comes. Ghatotkacha told me that my brother had become worried when I didn’t return to camp for the evening meal.” Yudhishitira told the official. . but with him came Yudhishtira and Sahadeva. Draupadi a few paces behind them and by her side.” “Sorry to put you to all this trouble. “Because of the madness of some people.BHIMSEN 182 had asked politely. and vanished into the forest. while Sahadeva smirked. I have had to walk all this way for nothing. “Yes. I assuaged my hunger pangs with drinks of water. “this is my brother Bhima. I walked over to the edge of the pond. reached down and plucked a double handful of the flowers.” Yudhishtira muttered as. and waited patiently. “Our king is at his hunting lodge. making inquiries. she took them from me with an indifferent shrug. thanked the official for his kindness but said he was returning to his camp. As we walked. and then afternoon. My son bent to touch my feet. coping with the cold as best I could.

and walked on.BHIMSEN 183 A little further on. I came across a bunch of fragrant blue flowers lying beside the path. . then I shrugged. I stood looking down at them for a bit.

the intruder swung his spear around. she ran to the edge of the clearing where the area hermits were gathered in a cluster. He had Draupadi slung over one shoulder. Later. Despite the seriousness of the situation. I almost laughed out loud: that was so typical of my brother. He set Draupadi on her feet. Sahadeva lay on the ground in front of him.” Yudhishtira was saying as I came up. and appeared to realize that I was more serious opposition than my brothers. or die!” I roared. Jadan – I learnt his name later – turned towards me. dark-complexioned and dressed only in a loincloth—stood in the clearing in front of our huts. expecting fair play and dharma in every situation. I welcomed this opportunity to test my strength and skills against an opponent worth my while. A man – big. Even as I ran into the clearing. Nakula was trying to attack him from the side.BHIMSEN 184 Episode 42 The sounds of strife came to me as I was walking back towards camp after a routine hunt: people yelling in panic. broad-shouldered. the haft catching my brother on the side of the head and tumbling him to the ground. “If you are a man. peopled mostly by hermits. Jadan advanced towards me. in the other. and mostly he preyed on travelers passing through. “Let her go. It had been a long time since I had fought with someone. he held a short spear with which he kept my brothers at bay. give me a weapon and then fight me one on one. a woman’s screams – unexpected sounds in our quiet corner of the Gandhamadhana forest. I waited for him with a sense of joy. from the way he was holding his ribs. all yelling their heads off. with a small scream. the hermits told me Jadan was the bane of their lives. I realized the stranger must have caught him with a kick. His stamping ground was on the lower slopes of the mountains. and to make sure I hadn’t turned rusty in these long years of exile. they said. But every so often .

I swung sideways. letting his bunched fist hit me on the back. but this time the weight and force of the clubbed hands sent me staggering back a few steps. having decided to indulge my liking for unarmed combat. I had let Jadan land a few blows to test his strength and skill. a despairing wail. I decided I had seen enough. I tossed my hunting spear aside. and abducting any woman he found – though women were admittedly rare in this encampment of hermits. I could have toyed with him for a while longer if I wanted to. mouth open. Jadan must have thought he had me. I twisted and let me hit me high on my back. threw his own spear aside. He was tall. As he staggered back. I moved in to finish it off – and out of the corner of my eye. attacking their camp. She had moved several steps forward from that sheltering group of hermits and was watching me. He charged up. Again. Strength he had in plenty – the blows he had landed on me stung. he swung again and this time. Draupadi screamed. caught sight of Draupadi. stealing their food. he was clearly untrained in the arts of hand to hand combat. I smashed the heel of my right foot into his ribcage. . putting the weight of my body behind the kick that sent him crashing to the ground. grunting as he swung hard at my face. and very strong. shielding my ribs and face from his assault and absorbing the force of his strikes. chest heaving in her excitement. but I thought I had the edge on him on both counts. Jadan swung at me like a woodsman with his axe. but I knew it was all over save for the killing move – I could twist his neck or flip him around and break his spine. Clubbing his fists together. as he stumbled. pushing him off balance. He kept swinging.BHIMSEN 185 he would come up the slopes. But judging by his roundhouse swings and the way he got off balance after each swing. arms swinging. I took his blows on my body. Jadan roared in defiance. I deflected his strike with my open palm. my bent elbow smashing into his throat. and came at me. I took his first strike high up on my shoulder. I stepped forward. Seeing me staggering.

“They are different. god knows what he will become when he grows up!” I turned around. and Sahadeva was telling him about Jadan’s attack on our camp.BHIMSEN 186 “Kill him!” Yudhishtira yelled at me. Walking up to where Yudhishtira sat. I sped him on his way with a kick and turning. Two days later. turned. But without a word to anyone. then watching with head hung low as our enemies dishonored her in public. As I walked past my elder brother. .” Ghatotkacha’s eyes blazed with sudden anger. not a Naga. we were sitting down to dinner when Ghatotkacha walked into the clearing. I wanted to take him aside. My brother opened the parcel – and recoiled in shock as the severed head of Jadan fell into his lap. and walked out of camp without even a glance at the rest of us. for whom I was someone to send on fool’s errands. he tossed a parcel wrapped in palm leaf in front of him. and was taking it out on him. however. or to stoke her lust with tales of the blood I had shed.” Ghatotkacha told Yudhishtira. My brother had thought nothing of pledging our wife on a throw of the dice. to tell him that my brother was angry with me for letting Jadan go. And then there was my sometimes wife.” Yudhishtira said as he walked away. “The man who touched Draupadi has no right to live!” A sudden sense of revulsion swept over me. without even his ritual obeisance to me. his notions of dharma had gotten in the way. I grabbed a handful of Jadan’s hair and pulled him to his feet. I’ll kill you!”. He turned to run. “He is an Asura. I yelled as I slapped him hard. and saw that Ghatotkacha had come into camp. I heard him say “Here comes another one. When Arjuna and I wanted to go to war. “If I ever see you again. blood still oozing from the neck. my son spun on his heel and walked away. “All these jungle tribes – can’t trust a single one of them. walked away towards my hut. they love to plunder and to kill…” “It’s all the same.

but wasn’t best pleased with the result since he was now deprived of the daytime company of sages and such. seriously – do you know what is on top of the hill?” “Another pool full of Saugandhika flowers? I’ve had enough of those. So my brother suggested the move. When I walked out of the hut for a wash. Instead. and found Draupadi with Nakula and Sahadeva in the communal hut. “Draupadi must be sweating. and another one for Yudhishtira and Draupadi. It was Yudhishtira’s idea to move from Gandhamadhana: at some point during our exile. laughing. “Smell the fragrance in the air. She seemed to like that. but I went out every day anyway because what else was there to do? One evening I came back to camp with just two rabbits to show for a day spent in the foothills. It was also not an ideal location for hunting. “No. That was my idea.BHIMSEN 187 Episode 43 Our new camp was at the foot of a fairly large hill. Nakula and Sahadeva looked at each other.” she said.” “No!” she protested. He told me Panchavarna flowers grow in profusion on the upper slopes of this hill – it seems they are . laughed at some private joke Draupadi was evidently in on judging by her smile. so I saw no point in doing all the donkey work of cutting down logs and building huts for each of us. When I walked in.” I replied. and walked out. well away from human habitation. we had one large communal hut that three of us shared. it’s divine. I walked over to dump the rabbits next to the cooking area. uncle Vidura had warned of the dangers of staying in any one place too long. We no longer had individual huts and the privacy that came with it. Yudhishtira had told us we wouldn’t be here long. Draupadi followed. Pretending not to notice. “A wandering hermit had come here this morning while you were away.

and walked away. the Pandava. spear points out and aimed in my direction. I came upon the ashes of a campfire. you have heard of the people I have killed in combat…” .” Manimaan shook his head no. there was someone nearby. we could go up the hill together. But if you do not go away. I doubled back and began to climb the hill – a hard.” I told them. and walked off into the forest as usual. he told me. I will be forced to.” I said.” I called out. five colors. not wanting the others to know what I was up to. “I do not want to use force. I was feverishly aware of the invitation in her eyes and the light press of her breast against my arm. “I am Bhima. I would be grateful if you and your band could move away from here for three or four days – we want to perform some sacrifices and would like the privacy.” “So now you want me to climb that hill and get you those flowers so you can throw it away?” Draupadi bit her lip. “I come as a friend. Draupadi gave me a look.. Near the top. his band grouped tightly behind him.BHIMSEN 188 brilliant to look at. Once I was out of sight of the camp. Moving closer to my side. with an off-handedness I was far from feeling. The ashes were still warm – clearly. enjoy our reunion amidst those flowers…” “We’ll see. I picked up my spear and bow and arrow. Kubera is our friend and I have no wish to hurt any of his followers. Next morning. and the fragrance is even better than the Saugandhika. Their leader came up to me and introduced himself as Manimaan. We are camped at the bottom of the hill. I was thinking… didn’t you know that tomorrow is the last day of my time with the Yuvraj? I thought the day after. torturous climb over a largely rocky path. A small group emerged from between the trees. she turned so she was looking up into my face. they were a tribal band owing allegiance to Kubera. “No. glanced away and then back at me.. “You know my name.

and cut a path so my brothers and wife can climb up easily. chopping steps into the rock as we went to facilitate the climb. she is. I was mentally promising myself that I would do everything I could to make it the best year she ever had when she reached me and breathlessly announced: “He is back. didn’t you know?! Arjuna is back!” It was only then that she seemed to notice what I was doing. Her delighted smile made me absurdly pleased.” . we walked to the top of the hill. then spent the evening cooking the meat in different ways. from four years ago and from that one stolen night in the forest.” They were willing. As we worked. I shrugged.” she told me. to rest in. “You look tired. Panchavarna or otherwise. “Not today. I thought. We lined the floor with soft. We went to work. fresh cut grass and then retraced our steps down the hill. will you help me? I want to make a hut on top of the hill. so I could see her transform before my eyes into that picture of bloodthirsty lust I knew so well. I was packing the food when I glanced up and saw Draupadi hurrying towards me. I saw no signs of flowers. I planned for the day. “Before you go. but the view was spectacular. “A full day’s hunt and nothing to show for it?” Sahadeva asked.” Nakula said when I walked into the hut. ahead and wondered to myself what battles I could tell Draupadi of.BHIMSEN 189 They talked among themselves for a bit. so happy it is the start of our year together. even eager to help now that they had shed their initial hostility. Together. then Manimaan came up to me and said he and his men would go away and leave us alone for a week. Next day I hunted with a vim. with detail and even exaggeration. we can go up the hill another day. cutting down logs and erecting a small pavilion situated so you could get the best view. so intimately. “Let’s listen to Arjuna’s stories. It was very late at night when I got back to our camp. and the year. her hand on my arm. Early next morning. returning to camp early with half a dozen rabbits and as many birds.

I was most interested in his arms – judging by the calluses. then fire these flaming arrows onto those balls and create conflagrations. I imagined what it could do to human flesh if it struck. He took an arrow and smeared some kind of strange substance on its tip.BHIMSEN 190 Without a word. we gathered around the campfire. others that could shoot dozens of arrows at one time. “We’ll talk later. Three years of travel had done him good – he had been burnt almost black by the sun and looked wiry. That evening. He had collected detailed sketches of these war machines from the engineers of various lands. Arjuna told us he had seen bowmen in the south toss huge balls of rope smeared with oil into the middle of opposing forces. As the arrow soared it caught fire. Mayan can construct them for us based on the sketches. I turned and dumped the food back in the pot. then held him at arm’s length and looked at him. His main objective had been to familiarize himself with new weapons and new ways of waging war. Nakula and Sahadeva beside him and Draupadi trailing behind. sharing the food I had prepared for my honeymoon and listening to Arjuna’s stories of strange lands and stranger customs. of how he had fought great battles against the demons on behalf of the gods and how. then shot it high into the air. blindingly brilliant flame. In later years. Nakula and Sahadeva close beside him. and went away. I pulled him into a tight hug. muscular. I would hear the balladeers sing of how my brother had ascended to the heavens in human form. Bending. still others to employ against elephants. I have much to discuss with you. . he told us. a peculiarly shaped weapon he could hurl at a target and which would return to his hand if it missed. He noticed the direction my glance and smiled. Indra and Vayu and the snake gods and Varuna and Agni had blessed him and given him their most secret weapons. in gratitude. with not an ounce of fat on him. At Nakula’s prodding. he must have been practicing to shoot with either hand. He had come across amazing new engines of war – engines that could batter down walls and fortifications from a distance. Arjuna came hurrying up just then. the tip burning with a searing.” he said. or horses. my brother touched my feet. he showed off the new weapons he had personally acquired: arrows tipped with snake venom that killed with the merest scratch. and it was of this that he spoke the most.

and went away to the communal hut to sleep. shifting hurriedly to a spot closer to where Arjuna sat. It is not easy for our allies to come here. To sing that they came to him as gifts was. so we’ll base ourselves there. but instead worshipped the Lingam and the Yoni. to study and acquire these weapons. “Oh. of another tribe where the Swayamvara was a matter of blind luck. Kamyaka is more central for both Krishna and King Drupada and there are good paths for their chariots. “What? Even the blind and the lame could try?” Draupadi wanted to know. with the girl sitting in a darkened grass hut while aspirants to her hand thrust spears through the walls and the owner of the spear she touched marrying her.” “Tell us about that battle. of the steps I had so painstakingly carved for Draupadi to climb.” “Why?” I protested. there is nothing to tell.” my brother decreed. to diminish the nature of his accomplishments.” Draupadi said. and went off to sleep. they take the credit away from us for what we actually do. My brother had travelled ceaselessly for years. enduring god knows what privations and taking who knew what risks. just once – a clan chieftain called Kalakeyan and his band waylaid me as I was heading down south.” he said. they embellish our doings and elevate them to mythical status. “Actually. we need to start making plans. really – they were not trained warriors. “What’s the hurry?” I was thinking of that pavilion I had constructed up on the hill. . they amplify. I killed him.” He then began telling us of strange customs he had encountered: tribes that did not worship Indra or Vayu or Surya. But in doing that. of the time I had planned for us together. “I didn’t have too many battles to fight. Yudhishtira said he was tired. his band fled. “The rest of you get some rest too. I took the leader out with an arrow to the heart and that was that. “Tomorrow we’ll move back to Kamyaka.” Arjuna said when Sahadeva pressed him. “Now that Arjuna is back and we are nearing the critical phase of our exile.BHIMSEN 191 That’s what balladeers do – they exaggerate. I used to think as I listened to those songs. it always seemed to me.

BHIMSEN 192 Once he was gone. I spent that night staring up at the sky and trying not to think of the woman who was now my wife again. Nakula watched her walk away and smirked at me. walked away in the direction of the smaller hut – which. Arjuna began talking of other conquests – clearly the women had not left him alone during his travels and as clearly. was mine to share with her. . I saw her lips move. and only then realized that she was fast asleep. he hadn’t wanted them to. I entered my hut.” she murmured in her sleep. I saw Draupadi stretched out on the bed of grass in the center of the room. perversely. and by the light of a lamp turned low. She was smiling. I sat beside her. moving away from the camp. though I wanted to follow her I remained where I was. With my back against a tree. As I stretched out beside her. making an obvious mime show of her indifference. and who was even now lying in my bed with a smile on her lips. Draupadi got up and. listening to my brother’s stories till long after the campfire had died down and we had exhausted the goatskins of sura Arjuna had brought with him. dreaming of my younger brother… dreaming of blood. “Tell me about Kalakeyan. from today. “Tell me how you fought him… tell me about the blood when you killed him…” I rose hurriedly and walked out of the hut.

In other ways the move made sense. not for a life in hiding. and if Sakuni then challenges you to another game of dice. on how we have always walked the path of righteousness. looming immediately ahead was the one year we had to spend in hiding – and Arjuna and I were both uneasy at the prospect. What with Draupadi. that the stars were in our favor now. Yudhishtira got up and walked away without a word. “We have honored our bargain so far. If we were identified. I wasn’t getting much sleep at night. and had taken to going away to secluded spots in the forest for daytime naps.” he said. with a long speech on dharma. In such a case. during one of our routine discussions. “An astrologer uncle Vidura sent told me that the tide was turning. and our time was rapidly approaching.” I didn’t expect Yudhishtira to agree – and he didn’t disappoint me. “Why do we have to spend a year in hiding?” Arjuna asked one evening. It took a visit from Krishna to convince Arjuna that we needed to stick to the terms of the deal –not because of some vague notions about . for no one would wait forever. our exile would begin all over again. “And if we manage to spend a year in hiding and don’t get discovered. we have used the time to build up our strength again.BHIMSEN 193 Episode 44 Kamyaka’s relative proximity to Hastinapura played constantly on my mind. We knew Duryodhana would send out an army of spies to discover our whereabouts. and how in the final analysis our actions would work to our advantage. we would lose almost all our allies. We were almost at the end of our forest life. as envoys from friendly kingdoms began arriving on an almost daily basis to check on our wellbeing. We should be preparing for war. what then? Did the stars say anything about that?” Sahadeva asked. and to discuss our plans for when the period of exile was over. and with worrying about what Duryodhana could be planning. now installed in my hut as wife in residence.

no major king will accept the Rajasuiya and their right as overlords.” Krishna told me next day as he was preparing to leave. but to beg for our help. “I’ve explained everything to Arjuna. Even so. “You will spend the year in the Matsya kingdom of King Virat. and paying particular attention to that part that buffered us from Hastinapura. Through them. trust me. he has been building up a considerable army. and it was clear that the two friends. “Their argument is that unless the Kauravas defeat us in battle. after paying ritual obeisance to Yudhishtira and visiting with me in my hut. The two women spent all their time together while Krishna. the purohit.BHIMSEN 194 dharma that neither Arjuna nor I cared too much about. which pleased Draupadi. over the last few years.” Arjuna and I took to spending long hours in the forest. By the time your year in hiding is over. Krishna brought Satyabhama along. took Arjuna away into the forest in his chariot. but with even his generals giving him the same advice. but it was soon clear that they had come not to hurt us. They returned late the next afternoon. we learnt that mother was doing well. he will become your ally. who were meeting after a long while.” Yudhishtira meanwhile was occupied with Dhoumya. We need to be doubly careful now – uncle Vidura thinks he is planning something to cause us more grief. and the many messengers who came from uncle Vidura on an almost daily basis. . we also learnt that Duryodhana was keen to perform the Rajasuiya but was being dissuaded by grandfather Bhisma and other advisers. he has given up on that idea. “Duryodhana is not too pleased. We were about to sit down to dinner one evening when a group of some half dozen soldiers in Duryodhana’s livery came rushing into camp.” Yudhishtira told us. but in our own strategic interests. He is growing in power. scouting the area around our camp. when trouble came it caught us off guard. had spent considerable time carousing. Arjuna and I grabbed up our weapons and confronted them.

we have no one else to turn to. “Uncle Vidura had warned you that the Kauravas were planning some mischief against us. “You told us we should honor our bargain and not go to war with the Kauravas – okay. the soldiers said. your cousin. and hold them to ransom. and thought it would be good sport to capture him. Chitrasena was planning to take his captives back to his kingdom next morning. “They cheated us out of our kingdom. Help them?! Brother. and the soldiers had been ordered to be alert to any pretext to pick a fight. that is diminished. Please help. Dushasana.” Yudhishtira said. had a large force camped nearby – before they knew it. you are mad!” “Arjuna is right. “we have our own quarrel with our cousins. who they identified as one Chitrasena. “Bhima. that is your decision and we honor it.” Arjuna laughed out loud. our kingdom by right. and were hoping to provoke a clash with us. son. The plan was for them to ‘accidentally’ stumble on us. is in trouble. For some unknown tribal chief to take Hastinapura’s Yuvraj captive is an insult to our clan that we cannot ignore and it is Hastinapura. Yudhishtira looked at me.” he told Yudhishtira. you and Arjuna should go and rescue our cousins. Our Yuvraj. they came here to do us more harm. On the way they chanced upon some local king who was out for a hunt. and then go back and claim that we had attacked them. the Kauravas had been surrounded and taken prisoner. Karna and a few others of the Kauravas had decided to go on a picnic in Kamyaka. in his usual patient way. they said.” .BHIMSEN 195 Duryodhana. kill us all. they could somehow provoke a fight. The king. they admitted that the Kauravas had brought with them a band of hand-picked troops. they insulted Draupadi in open court and not content with forcing us to lead this miserable life of exile. They must have reckoned that since there are only five of us. But why should you risk the lives of our brothers by sending them against an army capable of capturing Duryodhana and Karna and their forces?” “Child. but we should never forget that both Kauravas and Pandavas are part of the Kuru clan. Under Yudhishtira’s questioning.” Nakula said.

There are many kings who are not committed to either camp. with Chitrasena for company. and we will soon begin looking for allies for the war against the Kauravas that will follow.” “Oh – your wife Chitrangadha’s cousin?” Yudhishtira nodded. walked Duryodhana.” said Arjuna.” “If you say so. picking up his bow and quiver. “Yudhishtira is right.” Chitrasena told Yudhishtira.BHIMSEN 196 “I think I know who this Chitrasena is and if it is the person I am thinking of. strode off into the forest.” he said and. “I’ll go. kings who will jump on the side of whoever they think is stronger – when they hear of this incident.” Arjuna said. my attitude towards Yudhishtira was invariably one of mild contempt. “I’ve already asked my people to free their troops. “This is the right thing to do. Turning. “Our time of exile is nearing its end. they will think twice before aligning themselves with the Kauravas. thoughtful for a moment. their hands tied behind their backs and pushed and prodded by a group of soldiers. it doesn’t need both of us. This was one of those times. Behind them. Dushasana and Karna. think of the message that will send out: that the Kauravas with all their might needed the exiled Pandavas to come to their rescue. after bending to touch his feet. then he and Bhima are in no real danger. you and I need to go there now and free Duryodhana and the others before Chitrasena marches them off to his kingdom. even above Yudhishtira’s.” . Once in a while. “I wanted to release them in your presence. and many of them will come to our side. If Chitrasena is related to Arjuna by marriage. my brother demonstrates why it takes more than physical courage to be a king. brother. “Think about this for a moment from the point of view of statecraft. it was my opinion that mattered to him. “I think he is the nephew of Chitravahana.” Valuing personal strength as I do and not being inclined to clutter my thinking with all kinds of vague notions of dharma. king of Manipur. If we rescue Duryodhana and the others. and earns my grudging respect. who made no secret of the fact that after Krishna.” I told Arjuna. he gestured to his men to cut the prisoners free. It was late next evening before he returned. though. then he is no unknown tribal.

It just happened that Duryodhana found me first. he turned and walked off down the path Duryodhana and Dushasana had taken. His eyes blazed with a hatred he didn’t bother to hide. I sat near the campfire.” We ate and drank and talked late into the night. bearing large platters heaped with food and several dozen goatskins of sura. followed by his brother.” my brother said. my child – don’t let your anger goad you into doing foolish things.BHIMSEN 197 Yudhishtira went up to Duryodhana and embraced him. “Go. Chitrasena waved at a group of his men who were waiting at a distance. And when I finally went off to my hut. who was watching from the doorway of my hut and then at Arjuna. Karna paused for a moment at the edge of the clearing. and to be ready to intervene if you were threatened. at his signal. Duryodhana turned around and walked away. they marched into camp. he glanced across at Draupadi.” Chitrasena told us. the Manipur prince sat down with us for the evening meal. abruptly. At Yudhishtira’s invitation. sipping from a goatskin. Without a word. Long after the others were done. I found Draupadi awake and waiting… . “He asked me to take my troops and hide out in the area. “My uncle had heard from his spies that Duryodhana was planning to attack you.

the ones who had promised support. “These saints and hermits make the best spies – no one stops them. I walked over to where Yudhishtira sat. to tour the country drumming up support – it is almost like a Digvijaya. my brother listed the names of the kings who had attended the yaga in Hastinapura. because I’m supposed to be this weakling. always immersed in matters of philosophy. they can mingle with the people and with courtiers and kings with equal ease. and when they come visiting us no one thinks anything of it. forestalling the protest I was about to make. fingers stroking his long beard. “The man who was here is a paid spy I employ.” . Now he has sent Karna as his emissary.” my brother said. they are welcomed every where.” my brother said. the thought of my brother whiling away his time in endless discussions of dharma and karma was beginning to irritate me. “Duryodhana has performed a grand yaga. with a sly laugh as he caught the look on my face. murmuring about god knows what with every mendicant who chose to wander into our camp in hope of a free meal.” As I listened in growing astonishment. The time for action was near. and with so much planning to do and preparations to make. and they have all promised him support. I had long gotten used to my brother’s ways – but we were rapidly nearing the end of our 12th year. “Several kings attended. and the ones who had not. and here was my brother seated crosslegged under a tree. As soon as this latest specimen left. though they are not calling it that.BHIMSEN 198 Episode 45 Yudhishtira spent all morning with the latest hermit to wander into our camp.

Apparently he had. all of them paid for by Krishna as per an arrangement Yudhishtira had worked out with our cousin. As I watched. after the Pandavas were driven into exile.BHIMSEN 199 I was taken aback by the far-sightedness of this man who was born to be king. at dinner. Since his return. and spend time building my strength and speed. I almost missed the first faint scream. “Is that all he thinks about?”. while her maid ran screaming towards our camp. . a man in royal robes was dragging Draupadi onto the chariot. as Hidimbi had taught me to do so long ago—there was no better way to build stamina than chasing these agile creatures through the twisted paths of the forest. That day.” my brother said. but 20. have fallen on hard times. perfecting his mastery of the newly acquired weapons. A chariot stood in a small clearing a little way away from our camp. but increasingly. “Let him go. “Don’t worry. The second made me abandon my chase and hastily clamber up a tall tree. “He sent me a message about what jobs each of us should apply for. seeking a vantage point from where I could see all around.” I told my younger brother. “Krishna paid a casual visit to King Virat and requested him to give employment to some old retainers of Yudhishtira who.” “But if five of us and one woman land up at the king’s court the day our year of hiding begins.” The two of us walked off together. some days I hunted for food. I decided to run down rabbits. a clearly irritated Arjuna asked. and practicing with my mace. I preferred to leave that to Nakula and Sahadeva. What I saw made me tremble in rage. For my part.” my brother told me. over the years. built a far-flung network of spies in the guise of religious men. it has all been planned out well.” My brother set off early next morning saying he was going to visit a nearby hermitage. asking for jobs. Some of Krishna’s people will also get there at the same time. Arjuna had taken to spending long hours by himself in some remote part of the forest. we’ll discuss all that later. “He knows what he is doing. surely it will be easy for Duryodhana’s spies to spot us?” “That is why it won’t be five of us.

I have cursed myself for that folly – and for the bigger folly my elder brother was to commit.” I told my brother. I jumped into the middle of the path. had come running back to camp and were about to set out in search of Draupadi. I have no idea why I checked Arjuna’s arrow. holding her hands in one hand and grabbing the reins with the other. roaring out a war cry with all my pent-up fury. Draupadi seemed terrified. as the man fought to control them. racing along the forest paths on a course to intercept the abductor. Yudhishtira returned late in the afternoon. I knew these trails better than anyone – and in this dense forest. still simmering with anger. Draupadi. I took up a stand at a bend in the trail and as the chariot took the corner. From my long hours spent hunting and running down rabbits. We drove back to camp. The horses took fright and checked in their rush. The chariot took off. there was no chance a chariot drawn by four horses could get up enough speed to outrun me. and came upon Nakula and Sahadeva who. when he caught site of our captive. “Don’t kill him yet – he seems to be a king of some sort. when I had them back under control. hearing the screams of the maid. I skimmed down from the tree top and hit the ground running. I looked up and saw Arjuna at the other end of the trail. bow drawn and arrow aimed at the abductor. as grief and rage kept me awake.” To this day.BHIMSEN 200 I stayed where I was. and once I was sure of its direction. “Wait. picked him up and hurled him out onto the forest floor. told our brother of how she and her maid had gone off into the forest to look for fresh flowers for the . “What is he doing here? Why have you tied him up?” Jayadratha! So this was the king of Sindhu – and husband of Duryodhana’s only sister. let’s find out who he is. I jumped onto the chariot and in one motion. but unhurt. Dusshala. watching as he manhandled Draupadi onto his chariot and then jumped in. and on many a night. I grabbed the reins and fought to control the horses. “Jayadratha!” he exclaimed. I tied the abductor’s hands behind his back with a length of jungle vine and bundled him into the chariot.

Nakula and Sahadeva forced Jayadratha onto his knees. Clearly. “Enough!” Yudhishtira commanded.” Jayadratha stood in the center of the clearing for a long moment. mercy for a royal committing the identical crime. On learning who Draupadi was. “He cannot be let off scot free. Jayadratha had driven up in his chariot. staring at each of us in turn.” Yudhishtira said. I bit back my anger.” he told Yudhishtira. chopped away Jayadratha’s hair. what is one more?” he had taunted her as he dragged her into his chariot. Without a word. Going up to Jayadratha. and stayed silent. with no regard to the pain he was causing and the blood that trickled from his bruised scalp. he was angry with me for letting him go. “Go!” my brother told the king of Sindhu. he raised him to his feet and removed his bindings. the Sindhu king only laughed. When Draupadi abused the man and sent him away. and sent a servitor to summon them to his presence. “He deserves to die. . “So much the better. My brother’s notions of justice are strange.” Arjuna said. however. justice depended on who you were – death for a tribal.” “No. Jayadratha had apparently mistaken them for tribal women.BHIMSEN 201 daily puja. Nakula. Flat. I thought to myself – when a Jadan tried to abduct Draupadi. now he was the one recommending mercy. “Tell Dusshala we enquired about her well being. sent the startled horses plunging down the forest trail. you have had five men. sending an involuntary shiver down my spine: the vision of Jayadratha’s eyes as they fixed on us that afternoon in the clearing. Nakula took out his hunting knife and brutally. like those of a snake poised to strike. let him go – we cannot be responsible for making a widow of our only sister. While Sahadeva pulled his head back. cold eyes. was in no mood to listen. leaving just a tuft in the center. he climbed onto his chariot and with a lash of the whip. “I was only waiting for you to return. I was drifting off to sleep that night when an image came to mind. child.

that we had made a fatal mistake. that one day we would pay a terrible price.BHIMSEN 202 At that instant I knew. . with absolute conviction.

maid-servant. in the guise of the eunuch Brihannalla. it comes naturally. queen of Indraprastha. and was taken on as maid-companion to Queen Sudeshna. which all too clearly bore the markings of the ambidextrous archer he was. but when a eunuch walks it is a more deliberate roll. “For us women. He argued that he had to find a disguise that could hide his arms. demonstrating as she spoke. the one-time chief cook in Yudhishtira’s kitchen at Indraprastha. and was hired to teach Princess Uttara the arts of song and dance. Sahadeva. mingling with the people Krishna had sent to seek employment. No matter what position he occupied. convulsed us with laughter.000-head herd. . those signs would mark him out and would be too visible to such of Duryodhana’s spies who came looking for us in Matsya. to Draupadi. she also tutored him on how to walk like a woman. “Exaggerate it. His choice of disguise provided the rest of us considerable amusement during our last days in exile.” Draupadi had transformed herself into Malini.BHIMSEN 203 Episode 46 It was as Vallabha. found work in the vast cattle sheds belonging to the king. who ran a 45. when he tried it out. with that roll of the hips that on her was seductive but which. Nakula had parlayed his skill with horses into a job at the royal stables. Arjuna came to the court two days after me. Draupadi taught him how to dress in female attire. the one-time sairandhri.” Draupadi advised him. that I sought a job with the king of Matsya. who had no particular skills outside of his talent for organization. We had gone in ones and twos to Virat’s kingdom over the last week of our 12th year.

“Since the queen is so fond of you. though. I still managed to find enough free time to sneak out for accidental meetings with Nakula and Sahadeva. and even to go into the inner chambers on the pretext of delivering something or the other. she sought me out in a mood of considerable perturbation. I know that Duryodhana and some of our other cousins installed their favorites as Dusshala’s maids. “When he comes visiting. The queen had grown fond of her.” I told her. “I don’t like the way he looks at me. Though the palace kitchens operate almost non-stop. and increasingly treated her more as a favored companion and friend than a maid. I thought. it is she who insists that I be the one to serve him – what is the point of complaining to her?” .” “Nothing remarkable in that. At first.” “I’m not surprised by anything the Kuru men do. and just managed to stop myself from voicing my thoughts out loud. a man learned in the Vedas and skilled in the game of dice. In the black robes of the palace cook. I was reasonably sure of escaping scrutiny. covered head to foot in soot and dust.” she sniffed. she seemed reasonably content with her lot.” That’s not what Dhristadyumna told me. she told me during one of our meetings.” Draupadi told me. “Beautiful maidservants have always been fair game for princes – in fact. she is scared of him and won’t deny him anything. “Such things never happened in the kingdom of Drupada. “The queen’s brother has been visiting her a lot these last few weeks.” Draupadi sniffed when she heard of the plan. so I could snatch a few moments with Draupadi and check on her well-being.” Draupadi said. why not drop a word in her ear?” “Sudeshna is very fond of her brother and more than that. “I hope he doesn’t stake us when he runs out of things to pledge. But one evening some seven months into our stay. Krishna had suggested this ploy after discovering that Virat was a compulsive gambler.BHIMSEN 204 It was Yudhishtira who had the best job of all: he became Kanka.

if the king were to wager his kingdom and lose. “But Kanka seems to be using his time well – over these past few months he has won a considerable amount from the king. It was easy enough to understand: Matsya was not as big a kingdom as Indraprastha had been. who came to challenge the men of Matsya.” she shrugged. well. He stood aloof. Their arrival was the excuse for a festival of sorts. some of the cooks in our group laughingly suggested that I should challenge him. and the food not as great as you would think – it was the chief cook who decided who ate what and how much.BHIMSEN 205 It’s not for much longer now.” I told her. with much drinking and wagering. he travels most of the time. “Anyway.” Draupadi laughed. as she slipped away down the corridor to rejoin the queen. and he seemed to go out of his way to be rude to me. The work in the royal kitchens was heavy. I consoled her. I had no intention of challenging him.” “Luckily. no one really seemed to mind that the local wrestlers were proving to be no match for the visitors. he hadn’t. Relief from boredom came in the form of a group of wrestlers from a neighboring kingdom. found anyone among the Matsya warriors to match him in strength and skill. he told anyone who would listen. watching the various bouts with a contemptuous expression. what can he do to you? You are always with the queen and with other maids—it is not as if you are alone with him. word would spread quickly as it always does when noted champions are defeated and new ones are created. though – if I won. that would solve a lot of our problems.” “Yes. and he didn’t want to accidentally kill someone. and he must have been worried that my reputation as Yudhishtira’s former chief cook might lead to his ouster. One alone among the visitors refused to take part in the contests. “Anyway. . but I thought we were otherwise wellmatched. When word of his thinly veiled taunts spread through the crowd. And from there to being discovered by Duryodhana’s men was a short step. he told me. Jimuthan – that was the name of the visiting wrestler – was some five fingers taller than me. what news of the gambler?” “It is not quite so easy for a lowly cook to meet the king’s favorite confidante.

BHIMSEN 206 I hadn’t reckoned with the chief cook. I deliberately slowed my responses. or any one of a dozen other attacks that depend on upper body strength. I haven’t been able to practice the art. or at least make me lose favor. he then began boasting to me of all the champions he had downed in combat. nothing I could say without giving away my identity. chest to chest. this is the point where the excitement is highest. “Never mind. “At least this fellow can give me a few minutes of exercise. allowing him to hit me a few times before we closed. I entered the ring and challenged Jimuthan to a bout. arm to arm. there can be no shame in your losing to him.” I told the king in response to his question. but for us wrestlers. I suppose he must have thought this was a simple way to get me killed. “Just get in the ring with him. I received a summons to the royal presence.” he told his comrades. At such times you know that his preferred mode of attack will be to try and force you back. Spectators love the thrill of the locks and throws and punches and kicks. shoulder to shoulder. He stepped into the ring and looked me up and down. . We wrestlers sometimes use such blows at the start of a bout to test the opponent’s speed of reaction. he stalked up to me and swung an openhanded slap at my face. with your legs splayed for balance and your strength focused in your upper body. You can grapple with him for a bit and then admit defeat – he is after all a noted champion. all of whom dutifully laughed uproariously. who that evening boasted to the king that he had someone who could fight Jimuthan. The moment when you are locked head to head. testing the opponent’s strength and skill before the actual combat begins: that is when you learn all about the man you are facing. As wrestlers will. Next morning. When he was done boasting. or get your neck in a lock. but after becoming a cook. I had nothing to say for myself – at least.” he said.” With no excuse to offer and nowhere to hide. Sometimes a wrestler will meet you with his legs spread sideways and his entire strength concentrated in his upper body as he strains towards you. and decide on your own strategies. “I learnt some wrestling when I was young.

the blow would drive the bone in the nose back into the skull and kill the opponent on the spot—but killing was not part of my plan. while his left foot was stretched back. flexing my arms. flung him several feet away. I shifted my own use of force. hoisted him overhead. trying to lift me onto their shoulders and collapsing under my weight. A huge roar rose from the stands. I smiled to myself. and gradually tightened the choke-hold till he drummed his hands and feet on the ground in a gesture of surrender. with my left I grabbed him by the throat and bending at the knee. where I was straining outwards to meet his shoulders and chest. the better for our chances of remaining undiscovered. and one I have used many times in practice and combat. in continuation of the same move. disengaging my right arm. I would have dearly loved to prolong the bout: in the eight months or more of my time in Virat’s kitchens. smashing up into his nose from below. the combination is almost impossible to resist – the pain as the bone in the nose shatters blurs the opponent’s senses. If used with full force. Rising up on my toes. He hit the ground with a crash. I waited for the precise moment when I felt his weight shift as his right leg left the ground for the blow and. He clearly was readying to use his right foot in a sweeping blow to my ankle. I had felled the champion of the visitors and had become an instant hero.BHIMSEN 207 Jimuthan stood with his right food advanced and bent at the knee. Subtly. My fellow cooks came rushing out and swarmed over me. I adjusted my own position to gain a little height and pushed down. got his neck in the crook of my arm. I hit his back with my knee. I spun round in a circle and. Used well. and the blow to the throat cuts off his air. the blow jolted his head back and broke the bone in his nose. Even at considerably reduced force. designed to cripple me and leave me at his mercy – one of the oldest moves in the game. . My right hand shot out to grasp the cloth knotted at his waist. I brought my elbow up into his face. I realized from the way he reacted that his right foot was just touching the ground for balance – it was the left that was taking all the strain. But I decided I had to end this quick—the less I revealed of my real strength and skill. I had no opportunity to practice. The men of Matsya were tired of seeing their warriors defeated. I clenched my fist and crashed the knuckles into his throat.

He kept me waiting while he drank his fill from a flagon held by a pretty serving maid.” I heard him tell his men as I left.” . when King Virat complemented me on my skill. when she was immured in the quarters of the queen with no solace from us. she said. “One of the maids was telling me just the other day. ostensibly to ask about my welfare. black as coal. Various maids took to visiting me late at night. “Bring him to me when I next feel like a bout.” I told him. with long. Draupadi laughed as she told me of this rumor. and took to heaping extra helpings of food on my plate and sharing with me his private stock of sura.BHIMSEN 208 At his summons. “He will do. Some weeks later. “I got lucky. visiting some kingdoms in the south. commander of the Matsya army and brother to Queen Sudeshna. word spread that Vallabha the wrestler-cook was impotent. what is the use of that fellow’s big body and all that strength if he can’t please a woman?”. How could I tell her that the reason I left the maids alone was because I knew they would gossip about it afterwards. or with Draupadi. or that she hadn’t known about them – but somehow it didn’t feel right to indulge myself with the maids just now. He was a big man. life in the royal kitchens became considerably easier. I knew from Draupadi that he had been away for some weeks. and neither he nor the others protested when I sneaked away to meet with Nakula and Sahadeva. The chief cook reversed his earlier hostile attitude. my elbow hit his nose when I was trying to change position. I walked over to the royal stand and bent my knee to the king. shaggy hair and the beady red eyes and hanging jowls of the debauch. From that day. running her fingers over my chest. I was required to present myself before Keechaka. a soldier came to the kitchens with a summons. then looked me up and down once and gestured that I could go. and had missed the wrestling bouts. her five husbands. One of his servitors presented me with a bag of 100 silver coins. and she would come to hear? It is not that I hadn’t had women before. I smiled and shook my head when she asked why I had turned into a monk. After I turned the third one away untouched.

and then wandered back in the direction of the kitchens. I strolled over to the cattle pens where I spent some time chatting with Sahadeva. I went to the stables. The sound of running footsteps made me turn around.BHIMSEN 209 I walked away hoping that day would never come. To defeat a visiting wrestler is one thing. her clothes were disheveled. “He has gone off into the forest and won’t be back for some time. I wasn’t surprised – a war of sorts had broken out. It was Draupadi. among the many maids vying for the favors of my handsome brother. Her hair was in disarray. and she was crying as she ran towards me. Draupadi had told me.” one of the stable hands smirked. . but to do harm even in sanctioned combat to the brother of the queen could create for me an enemy I didn’t need. looking for Nakula.

she passed King Virat and his now inseparable . creating lots of space for the dancers. on the skin of my chest. surveyed the hall. As I waited for him to come towards the couch I felt again. I lowered the wick and. It was here that in the early morning hours. Near the far wall was a luxurious couch for the guru to rest on. I knew. flanking in were two shelves laded with musical instruments of all kinds. in the dim glow. the marble floor was bare. Queen Sudeshna had given her a silver jug of fine wine. made my way over to the couch to await the battle that would come. Arjuna taught Princess Uttara and the other young palace girls the arts of song and dance. the scalding heat of Draupadi’s tears as she told me of her abuse at his hands. “Malini?” It was Keechaka’s voice. The opponent I awaited was strong and tough. made my way to the dance pavilion some distance away from the main palace. I pushed open the door and. As she reluctantly made her way to his palace. the battle. would be fierce. It had been a long time since I had fought. I listened to the soft pad of footsteps coming into the hall. I felt calm. and asked her to take it to Keechaka as a present from her. ready for what was to follow. to see if nearly a year of soft living in the kitchens of Matsya had blunted my edge.BHIMSEN 210 Episode 47 It was dark when I slipped out of the kitchens and. The soft creak of the door was my cue – I hastily stretched out on the couch and covered myself with a robe I had brought with me. by the dim light of a single lamp Draupadi had lit earlier in the evening. keeping to the shadows. and longer still since I fought to kill. Otherwise. The door creaked shut. I welcomed the chance to test my readiness.

“So I am to be raped by anyone who feels like it?” Trembling with anger and grief. as I grabbed for it. “The king came up to where we were.” As Draupadi lay there in the dust. Keechaka kicked me hard in the stomach. he slipped his hand around her waist and pulled her close. uncaring of her screams.” Draupadi cried. The feel of his hands on my body…” It was sometime before Draupadi could speak again. this was his palace. When she went up to him with the flagon of wine. my brother. not saying anything. I was trying to wrap my robe around me as I ran – I tripped and fell down the steps. When I came to my senses. I screamed out loud in my panic. Grabbing her by the hair. “I fought – but he is so strong. trying to cover myself. without our real identity being exposed. sitting under a peepul tree. she said. “My robe came off. “I managed to bring one hand up and rip my fingernails across his face. Draupadi had told me of how she found Keechaka alone. Crying bitterly. and he was lowering himself on top of me. grabbed my robe and ran from the hall and down the steps. “I must have passed out from fear and rage. Your brother… the gambler… he just stood there beside the king. discussing god knows what. I tried to point out. and walked back up the steps while I lay there in the dust. not making a move to help me…” There was nothing Yudhishtira could have done. laughed in my face and told me. I was stretched out on the couch. Clearly. he forced me onto his lap and started kissing me. Keechaka came storming down the steps. I rolled off the couch. there was no one to hear. He told Keechaka to stop making a public spectacle of his activities. he slapped me hard. she broke free of my arms. naked. He roared in pain. he slapped her hard. he had been waiting for her – the plan must have been worked out with Sudeshna. no one to come to my aid. I don’t care if we have to go into exile for another 12 years – I want him dead! Your elder brother will do nothing. “I don’t care if people find out who we are.BHIMSEN 211 companion. your .

“If you don’t do anything. I braced myself and smashed the heel of my right foot into his ribs. snapped his neck – but I wanted him to know who he was facing. late at night. I will go to my sister’s palace and find that wife of yours—she will be mine. but never mind – killing you will be fun enough for now and when I am done. I wanted him to die knowing why. “Seek Keechaka out tomorrow morning. you die. I swear I will kill myself in the palace courtyard – and before I die. I will announce to the world that I am Draupadi. daughter of a king and wife to the Pandavas. I am Bheema. if Keechaka is not dead by tomorrow. I could have waited till he lay down beside me and with one quick move. His hand reached out and brushed my shoulder. The sairandhri you abused is my wife Draupadi.” “Malini?” Keechaka had come up to the couch. to do with as I please.” I kept my voice as soft as I could. and pulled away the robe I had covered myself with. He laughed softly.BHIMSEN 212 younger brother is a eunuch.” I jumped off the couch and stood waiting for him.” As he spoke he abruptly charged me. “Mmm-mmm. “I wasn’t sure you’d come. if no one else will!” It took me a long time to calm her down.” I told her. And for that. “Bheema. the Pandava. before he could recover. “I came here for enjoyment of one kind. Ask him to meet you in secret. halting his charge. My brother will avenge me. “Who are you?!” There was surprise in his voice. but no fear. in the dance pavilion.” He sat down on the couch beside me. . “Tell him you are scared that people will know and your reputation will be ruined. Keechaka laughed. amusing himself with the young palace girls. looking to take me by surprise. My bunched fist crashed into his jaw.

moved into the room. I swept his legs out from under him and as he crashed to the floor on his face. His spine snapped. bracing myself with a knee in his spine. driving the air out of him as I grabbed at his hands. on the run. tell me what he did. to take my time as I had wanted to – his death would lead to questions. A sudden. . “You are bleeding!” She pushed me down on the couch and. she worked to stanch the flow of blood. Blood gushed from his mouth. sharp burst of pain brought me to my senses. Keechaka had raised his head and clamped his teeth on the outside of my thigh. I walked over and opened the door. grabbed his shoulders and bent him back. cracked it like a twig. in the ribs. she raised the wick and in the light of the flame. biting deep. roaring in rage and pain. I followed. “Tell me what he said when he came here. I jumped to my feet. Going up to the lamp. “Tell me about the battle. I charged him and. snapped it at the shoulder. I wrinkled my nose at the sudden sharp smell as his bowels voided.” I told her. With my right foot. stood looking down at the body of her enemy. gliding past me.” she said as she stretched out beside me. hard. landing on his chest with my knees. Tell me how you fought him. I dropped down with him and. She turned to me. and if I was found with visible marks of injury… I pulled his left hand out and back and with a quick jerk. “Draupadi?” She slipped out of the shadows where she had been hiding and. grabbing his right wrist with one hand and his elbow with the other. I shook off the waves of pain and. kicked him again. He rolled away from me.BHIMSEN 213 He crashed to the floor. He screamed. ignoring the frantic thrashing of his feet on the floor. I realized I couldn’t afford toy with him. tearing a strip of cloth off her robe. grabbing a fistful of his hair and pulling him up with me. Even as I felt the blood spurt.

insatiable. . starved of oil. Draupadi’s inner flame had just begun to burn..” The wick.BHIMSEN 214 “What happened when you broke his arm? Did he scream? Was he in pain? Tell me.. guttered and died. and that night it burnt bright.

It doesn’t take much to spread such stories: a few coins slipped into the palm of a court singer. but you will lead the army into battle.” Yudhishtira pointed out during a few snatched moments.” King Virat said. A soldier came to the kitchens with an urgent summons from the king. they said. Kanka suggested my name. And when trouble finally arrived at our doorstep. “But for our cousins. adding to my surprise. I hurried to court. handsome as all Gandharvas are known to be. and a new – and for us. his eyes glowing red with fiery rage. convenient – fable was born. our vigilance slackened. all heading to the palace courtyard. and said I had trained with the armies of King Yudhishtira. “We have been attacked from the north. Such fables then take on a life of their own. . whom they spotted that night stalking the streets. Within days.” As the days passed with no sign of strangers showing up and asking untoward questions. news that a warrior as notable as Keechaka was killed will come as a clear signal that you are in the vicinity. a few whispered words in his ear. Matsya was full of people who had actually seen the Gandharva that night: a tall man.BHIMSEN 215 Episode 48 The balladeers sang of a titanic midnight battle between Keechaka and a Gandharva whose wife the Matsya army commander had coveted during his travels.” It turned out that this was Kanka’s idea – as the aging king mourned the loss of his commander in chief. we saw no reason to connect it with our cousin. “We will accompany you. pushing a way through soldiers who seemed to be streaming in from all directions. “It will serve to fool the townspeople. We need to keep an eye out for Duryodhana’s spies.

I was rewarded with a huge roar of approval.” Nakula and I worked quickly to organize our forces and mount them on the huge war chariots. circle around and come out in front of Trigartha’s band. Nakula was readying a chariot for my use. but it was quite a while before we first spotted the huge dust . “Take your men through the forest.” Virat said. “The cows will slow them down. Such talk appealed to their instincts.” I told them. neither was it a target for external attacks. that is all – anyone who comes in our way. We’ll hit them from the rear. but it was no part of my plan to get drawn into a prolonged battle. dies. I can’t be bothered cooking for them.BHIMSEN 216 The raiding party. “There were nearly 200 of them. I knew them to be fierce fighters who tended to chafe at their inaction – Matsya was not a warlike kingdom. When the stable hands protested. a sword and a bow.” I said. wishing I had time to go to where we had hidden our own weapons in the forest. As I mounted the chariot and unfurled the war banner of Matsya.” They had driven away some 10. Only two had escaped and one of them. “Our task is to recover our cattle. I learnt. I hurried to the arsenal and picked out a large cowhide shield.” We drove out of the courtyard and built up speed as we left the town behind. raising my voice to carry over the din. and asked him to take charge of half the force.000 cattle housed in one of Virat’s outlying sheds. the soldiers gathered around me. all the while thirsting for the real thing. they had been cut down. all armed. bleeding from a sword cut. so the soldiers spent their days training and staging mock battles. six archers and four spearmen to each. I picked out a veteran I knew the soldiers respected. yoking four horses he had personally handpicked. a minor prince whose territory lay near the northern borders of Matsya. From spending time in their camp. It was a much larger force than we needed to deal with 200 men. “We don’t have the facilities to house a lot of prisoners and in any case. and recover my mace. It was led by Trigartha.” he told us. had come in the night. “Keechaka’s death must have emboldened him. had rushed to court to inform the king. By the time I reached the courtyard. to cut off their escape. “He has never dared interfere with our people before this.

as we crashed into the massed raiders. keeping just out of arrow range. driving the chariot straight at the center of Trigartha’s group. I jumped onto my chariot and gave chase. From where I fought in the midst of the melee. the raiders turned. Behind me the Matsya soldiers accelerated. My men were right behind me. Balancing on the racing chariot. I saw Trigartha’s chariot slip away. the rest realized that surrender was not an option and banded tightly together. the ones he had picked out for me looked unprepossessing. I grabbed up my sword and. adjusting to the two-pronged threat. organizing themselves into a tight defensive formation. was in disarray. Dropping it. looking to go down fighting. Alerted by the sound of our chariots. was clearly a senior leader in Trigartha’s army. Forcing my way through the fight. who I identified by the standard flying on his chariot. threw high. The arrow took him in his throat where I had aimed for the chest. As my chariot caught up with the . from the way he was marshaling his men. hugely outnumbered. aiming for a soldier in the front rank of the raiding party who.. spears and swords out.BHIMSEN 217 cloud raised by the cattle. circling the milling cows and looking to escape into the forest. I saw them trying to regroup. A few threw their weapons aside and were ruthlessly chopped down. and slowed down the pace of our advance. I realized that the bow. Their sudden appearance seemed to cause panic in the raiding party. Nakula knows horses as few men do. I notched arrow to string and pulling it back as far as the bow would allow. and his men had formed a loose half circle behind the milling cows. unfamiliar in my hands. my charioteer whipped the horses into a flat run. Trigartha. roaring out their battle cry. The raiding party. felling people and horses as they scrambled to get out of the way of my chariot. I gave the signal. but under the charioteer’s whip they showed an exceptional turn of speed. A blast of trumpets ahead of us indicated that the second group had circled around and were closing in from the front. I signaled my men into an arrowhead formation behind me. and were driving them on. jumped off the racing chariot at a dead run and hacked left and right.

I jumped off my chariot and onto his. we had the enemy outnumbered nearly twenty to one – but soldiers thrive on praise and can never get enough of it. when I rejoined the main forces with my captive. I’ll come to the camp in just a bit. I stopped my chariot and. and we have our cattle back. Another arrow brought down the lead horse. “His men are all dead. sent an arrow through the neck of his charioteer. by the time they got done. rallying the men around me. happy at finally having seen some form of action. and invited me to join them over a few skins of sura. though I had trained rigorously at the head of the Indraprastha army. “King Virat summons you. and I too wanted to revel in the moment of victory. The men listened to me and cheered me to the rafters.” I told them. They seemed to have forgotten that I was just the palace cook. I had led them and they had won. this was the first time I was leading troops into a battle of any kind.” the guard said. In any case. “Let me wash the blood off. we drove back to the palace in merry mood. “Let him go.BHIMSEN 218 fleeing Trigartha.” Virat ordered. We drove into the palace courtyard. the point of my sword at his neck. praised them for their bravery. “Kanka told me to tell you that the Kauravas have attacked. compensating for the higher throw by shifting my grip some four fingers lowers. the rest plunged and reared in confusion.” . Leaving a few soldiers behind to round up the cattle and return them to their sheds. were roaring with glee and anticipating a long evening of drinking and telling tall tales of the way they had fought and the men they had killed. and was about to walk off towards the kitchens when one of the palace guards came running up. It was really just a little encounter. today’s brief skirmish would become a major war with thousands of soldiers opposing them. The troops. and each soldier personally accounting for dozens of the enemy. I caught up my bow and. As Trigartha fought to control them. so they couldn’t get enough of me.” The men were busy stripping the dead of their weapons and ornaments.

” It was. announced suddenly. I was apprehensive – had been ever since I had learnt from King Virat that while we were off recovering out cattle from Trigarthan’s raiders. a surprisingly easy affair. slung across his shoulder.BHIMSEN 219 Episode 49 The dust cloud approached rapidly. who was standing up in the chariot and peering into the distance. he whipped the horses and raced the chariot forward towards the advancing troops. still dressed in the garb of a woman. I noticed he had Gandiva. at my signal. “It is the Matsya banner—this must be Prince Uttara returning. Brihannala. and the soft colors of his robe. “Uttara was brash and boastful . “He has never fought a battle—he is just a boy. “The Kauravas will have known it was me even with this disguise.” my charioteer. Arjuna told me as we drove at a leisurely pace back towards the palace. I halted the Matsya troops and quickly organized them into a defensive formation. while ordering me to take our troops and rush to help.” King Virat lamented. as his charioteer!” That was at the insistence of Draupadi.” Arjuna said. but I thought it best for now to let Uttara pretend he had won the battle. The flowers braided into his hair. who in her guise as Malini told Queen Sudeshna that Brihannala had served for a time as charioteer to no less than Arjuna himself. his favorite bow. “I have told them not to breathe a word of my part in the battle. but at this distance it was impossible to tell if it was friend or foe. Prince Uttara had led a section of the Matsya army against the attacking Kauravas. presented an incongruous sight in tandem with the breastplate and arm protectors of the warrior. as my charioteer took over Prince Uttara’s reins and Arjuna jumped into my chariot. I couldn’t help laughing out loud at the sight: holding the reins of the lead chariot sat Arjuna. “And they tell me he has taken that eunuch.



when we set out, but once we left the palace he panicked, like I thought he would.” Arjuna had driven the chariot to the grove in the forest where, before entering Matsya, we had hidden our weapons. They were tied neatly in individual bundles; I had climbed the tallest tree I could find and stashed them in the forks of branches. I found a skeleton in the forest and with a rope, tied it to one of the lower branches so passers-by would see it. I learned later that locals had spread the story that the tree was haunted by the ghost of the person who had committed suicide – the story spread and so did the fear, to the point where no one would go near the place. Armed with his favorite bow, and with his quiver packed with the weapons he had acquired during his travels, Arjuna handed over the reins to the young prince and directed him to drive towards the enemy. “It wasn’t a very large army,” Arjuna told me. “Some 400 soldiers – they must have planned a quick raid to try and uncover us. But all the main warriors were there—Duryodhana leading, Karna, Kripa, Drona…” Bhisma was there too but he stayed in his chariot off to one side, watching but taking no active part in the battle. “I wasn’t sure about the quality of the Matsya army, and whether they would take orders from me, so I decided to take the Kauravas by surprise. They were drawn up in battle array, clearly waiting for us to get within arrow range. I stopped just short, and shot a stream of fire arrows, the Agneyastra, and built a wall of fire just ahead of the Kaurava army. Their horses panicked; there was much confusion.” Under cover of the flames Arjuna attacked the leaders, cutting down Duryodhana’s horses, then Drona’s. “The one who gave me the most trouble was Kripa,” Arjuna said. “The others proved easy to handle, but Kripa fought back and he was good – I had to kill his horses and charioteer with poisoned arrows, the Nagastras, and render him helpless before he gave up.” It was the first opportunity my brother had to try out his newly acquired skills and weapons, and he was ecstatic at the outcome. “The Nagastra is okay, but the Agneyastra is key – just fantastic,” Arjuna said with the enthusiasm he reserves for talk of war.



“I hadn’t realized it before, but it’s not the fire alone that makes the arrows so deadly, it’s the accompanying smoke. The powder you coat on the arrowheads produces clouds of thick black smoke – it hangs over the opposing army, confusing them, and lets you get closer and attack.” But it was his newly developed ambidextrous skill, Arjuna said, that paid the richest dividends. “You know how when skilled archers face each other, we organize our own defenses to counter the style of the opponent. All those hours of practice I put in during my wanderings paid off – I kept switching the bow from right hand to left, changing the angles of attack and breaching their defenses with ease. Duryodhana and Drona had no clue how to handle my attacks; they were among the first to retreat.” His duel with Karna, brief but intense, was what pleased Arjuna the most. “The suta putra ran from the field, bleeding,” my brother laughed. “I was battling Kripa when he attacked me. I shot an Agneyastra between his horses. They panicked and before they could recover, I cut down the lead horses with poisoned arrows. He jumped off the chariot and fought on foot; I switched hands, cut down his bow, pierced his armor, wounded him high on the shoulder with that other arrow I showed you, remember, the one with a crescent head? I was getting ready to kill him with a Nagastra, when he turned and ran, like the coward he is.” We drove through the gates of Matsya and went our separate ways. Arjuna, who had removed his breastplate and armguards and given me his bow and quiver to hide, went back to his room in the ladies’ quarters and I, suddenly assailed by the hunger pangs I had been denying in course of a very long day, slipped into the kitchens to see what I could find to eat. Over the next three days, Matsya celebrated the triumph of its young prince. The king and courtiers fawned over Uttara and made him repeat endlessly the details of the battle; the ladies in waiting dimpled at him and fought each other for his favors. To his credit, Uttara seemed embarrassed by all the unmerited attention. Arjuna later told me that the prince had sought him out, protested that he didn’t deserve the honors being heaped on him and said he was going to tell the king the truth. At my brother’s urging, the young prince reluctantly agreed to keep up the pretense for a few more days, and personally ensured that none of the soldiers who had



gone with him to fight the Kauravas spoke of what had actually happened. On the afternoon of the fifth day, I was part of group serving a sumptuous celebratory lunch for the royal family and close retainers, when a messenger came rushing up with news that a half dozen chariots flying unfamiliar insignia had been spotted racing towards Matsya. “Be ready to meet whoever it is with force, if need be,” the king said to me. “O King, I suspect you won’t need force –if my guess is right, you will accord these visitors royal honors and make them welcome,” Kanka, who was seated among the favored courtiers, said. Minutes later, the royal herald entered the chamber to announce the arrival of Krishna of Dwaraka and his retinue. King Virat hastily rose to do the honors; to his surprise, Krishna went straight to Kanka and bent to touch his feet. He then accepted Virat’s obeisance, and said, “Where is Brihannala?” Krishna asked. “Have your herald lead me to him!” Satyaki, meanwhile, had also paid his respects to Kanka. Perfunctorily saluting King Virat, he ran up to where I stood among the other cooks and helpers. We embraced.



Episode 50

After 12 years of deprivation and a year spent in the soiled black robes of a palace cook, it felt good to have maids waking me up in the morning with hot water for my bath and fresh, clean silk robes to change into. We had been installed in the palace of King Virat, who insisted that till our future course of action was decided, we would remain in Matsya as his guests. I thought it proper to let him know that I had killed Keechaka. He took the news with surprising calm – in fact, I thought I even detected a sense of relief. “Keechaka was a hedonist, the bane of my life but he was my wife’s brother, there was little I could do,” he told me. “With him in charge, my army has had neither proper training nor a good leader. The men are loyal, and fierce fighters, but they need someone like you to teach them the arts and strategies of war. Now that you no longer need to hide who you are, it will please me if you could take charge of the army.” We were seated in the king’s main audience chamber, waiting for Krishna, Yudhishtira and the others. The talk, once they took their places, revolved around whether the Kauravas had managed to uncover our identity before the stipulated period of exile was over. Would we need to start the whole twelve plus one cycle all over again? “Don’t worry,” Krishna assured us. “I did all these calculations even before I left Dwaraka. You started your exile on the eighth day of the Sarvadhari Shravana’s dark phase of the moon,and your 13th year ended on the 7th day of the dark phase of the Plava Shravan – the night before the Kauravas attacked Matsya and were defeated by Arjuna.” I had no idea what he was talking about, and I didn’t care much either. Even if we had been discovered before the end of our stipulated period, there was no way I would willingly accept another cycle of exile. Yudhishtira could talk of dharma all he liked, but I was done hiding and running – here on, it would be war, for revenge and to



recover what was rightfully ours. And I knew that if it came to that, Arjuna, and my two youngest brothers would be with me – and that is all I needed anyway. The court astrologer confirmed that Krishna was right. “Duryodhana can argue that according to the solar calendar, he uncovered your identity one day before the 13th year ended – but it is the lunar calendar that we follow across the land, and Bhisma and the other acharyas will have done their own calculations, and they will know we are right,” he told the king. At the king’s behest, Matsya celebrated the return from exile of the Pandavas. Our own celebrations were enhanced by an unexpected marriage proposal – and that was Krishna’s doing. “King Virat has been a good friend to the Pandavas,” he told the five of us that evening. “We need to bind him to our side, and there is no better way than through marriage. I’ve seen Princess Uttara – she is beautiful, and just the right age to be married.” Arjuna caught my eye and smiled – I should say smirked. He seemed sure that he was about to add one more to his collection of beauties. “Uttara will be just right for Abhimanyu,” Krishna said, pretending not to notice Arjuna’s smile. “He will be here soon; I have already sent word to Dwaraka. He has grown into a fine young man – and without exaggeration, I can say that in the arts of war he is more skilled than his father, and both his uncles. You,” he said, addressing Arjuna directly, “were Uttara’s guru; itwould be inappropriate for you to then accept her as your wife.” Two days later, Drupada and Dhristadyumna arrived from Panchala. Yudhishtira, Krishna, Virat and Drupada immersed themselves in their discussions; Dhristadyumna joined Satyaki and me in working with the Matsya army, teaching them the arts of moving into the various formations, shifting at a signal from one formation to the other, and similar skills they were deficient in. In these 13 years, Dhristadyumna had grown into the most impressive warrior I have ever seen – in physical stature he was my equal, and in all but hand to hand combat and wrestling, the young man was clearly my superior.



“They are thinking of sending a messenger to the Kauravas, asking that they give you half the kingdom as your share,” Dhristadyumna told us the next morning. “It’s a waste of time – Duryodhana will never give up an inch of the territory he has cheated you out of, but my father thinks this is the right thing to do.” Yudhishtira too believed that peaceful means had to be tried first. “War is always the last option,” he told us that afternoon, when we met for a meal. “And besides, we have no certainty of victory in a war where the opposing forces are led by Bhisma, Drona and Kripa.” Draupadi seemed about to say something, but Dhristadyumna beat her to it. “Not going to war is even less of an option,” he told my brother, not bothering to hide his disgust. “Everyone knows how you were treated. Even if you established another kingdom someplace, not one of the kings of this land will respect you if you do not face the Kauravas on the battlefield. “And as for those gurus – this war will not be won by them,” the Panchala prince said. “This war is our generation’s, and we are the ones who will win it – Bhima and Satyaki and Arjuna and I.” Yudhishtira did not contest the assertion, but next day an envoy set out for Hastinapura with a message to Dhritarashtra from Drupada. “Messengers will go from here, they will come from there – these things have to be done, so no one can say tomorrow that the Pandavas did not explore all the options,” Drupada told me, taking me aside as I was heading off after the usual morning conclave. “But that does not mean that your preparations must wait. I have sent a messenger to Panchala; within days, a contingent of our most seasoned troops will be here, and they will help you and my son train the Matsya army.” Drupada had aged in these last 13 years – but he was still unmistakably regal, his authority unchallenged even by the Yadavas who deferred to him, while King Virat almost seemed a guest in his own palace, content to let Drupada do all the talking and even installing him on a throne placed next to his own. When the messenger returned, we all gathered in the audience chamber. This was a professional – such men don’t just carry messages, they act it out, infusing their words with all the authority of the sender.



“I went to Hastinapura and was received by King Dhritarashtra in the great hall,” he told us. “This is what I told them, as coming from King Drupada: “O Dhritarashtra, you know that you and Pandu are sons of the same father; your respective sons merit an equal share in the kingdom. And yet, you and your sons have systematically cheated the Pandavas out of what is rightfully theirs. You fobbed them off with wasteland; when they built a kingdom on it, you cheated them out of it with a crooked game of dice. In their name I ask – no, I demand – that you give the Pandavas their due, if you wish to avoid a conflagration that will consume your tribe.” Reverting to his normal tone, the messenger said, “As soon as I finished my words, the venerable Bhisma said you were right, and advised Dhritarashtra to offer you half the kingdom. But uproar then broke out; Karna shouted the loudest and with the Kauravas backing him, refused to permit Bhisma to speak. Finally, Dhritarashtra said he would send his reply in a few days; I was given food, and silk robes, and a purse of a hundred gold coins, and told to return.” It was a week before the messenger from Hastinapura arrived – and it proved to be none other than Sanjaya, Dhritarashtra’s ‘eyes’ and his closest confidante. Virat welcomed him and had his retainers take him to a private chamber so he could rest after his journey. Sanjaya joined us for the evening meal, but it was in the audience chamber the next morning that he officially delivered his message. “O Drupada,” Sanjaya said, speaking as Dhritarashtra’s voice, in the manner of skilled messengers, “my brother Pandu’s children are my own, and I am happy beyond measure that they have survived their exile and are under your protection, and that of King Virat. “I have no quarrel with you, Drupada. It is not to you but to my son Yudhishtira – for he is, and he knows he is, my eldest son – that I now speak. He knows that he lost all he had in a game of dice he voluntarily played; he was given the choice to accept defeat and withdraw with all his possessions intact – it was his decision to stake all, and having staked it all and lost it all, he knows no longer has the right to claim any part of it. He is the embodiment of dharma, of all that is right and good, and he will know this better than anyone. “The forces of Drupada and Virat and Dwaraka and others, led by Bhima and Arjuna and Krishna and Dhristadyumna, can never be

Karna. that the Pandavas lost in a fair game and now have no right to claim anything. I had given an answer that was not mine to give.BHIMSEN 227 defeated. A tinkle of anklets distracted me. the hall fell silent. led by Bhisma and Drona and Kripa and Karna and my second son Duryodhana will be disastrous for anyone who dares oppose them. she looked at me long and hard. and to be avenged for all the wrongs that have been done to us. “The old king is completely in the control of Duryodhana and his evil genius. I was not conscious of having come to my feet. I ask that you be patient.” That was the message Sanjaya delivered in a ringing voice that reverberated around the audience hall – and at the end of it all.” I heard my voice say. that you be tolerant. our answer is simply this: Prepare for war. Had Dhritarashtra accepted our demand for half the kingdom. I had breached protocol. or no? Was he counseling patience while he worked out the details? “The message is simple enough. I ask. a war against the forces of Hastinapura and our friends. we come to claim what is ours by right. and I knew my brother would be angry. that you do nothing that will pave the way for the destruction of our tribe. said. that you adhere to the principles of dharma that you have held dear all your life.” Dhristadyumna. Yudhishtira thanked Sanjaya for his message and asked about the wellbeing of the king. but his. of giving up anything they tricked you out of. “We will discuss your message.” Sanjaya stopped in his tracks. and saw that Draupadi had slipped into the audience chamber through a side door. signaling to a retainer to guide him to his quarters.” Yudhishtira told Sanjaya. But equally. “There is no need to wait. “My son Yudhishtira. I turned around. and give you our answer tomorrow. She must have heard all that had transpired. then abruptly turned and walked away. Catching my eye. I had no idea what our situation was. . in Dhritarashtra’s words. my son. I felt the heat of Yudishtira’s stare. seated beside me.” Affecting the courtly manners he could assume at will. They have no intention of giving you anything. and valiyamma Gandhari and our cousins. Didn’t you hear – Sanjaya said. “We have nothing to discuss.

for my brother’s anger. I had given my answer – and as far as I was concerned. Virat and Krishna thought of me. . I did not care for protocol. it was final. It would be war – and even the gods wouldn’t be able to keep our cousins safe from me. or even for what Drupada.BHIMSEN 228 For once.

but I was in no mood for farce. As the rest of us began to leave.” my brother told me when we had the place to ourselves. “Who took that decision?” I meant the question to come out calm. “I’m planning to send an envoy to Hastinapura with the message that war can be avoided if the Kauravas give us five villages – with that. “I did. heads together in rapt discussion. I headed straight back to my chambers. The maid carrying a silver jug of alcohol arrived at the same time as a visibly pleased Dhristadyumna. we can start all over again. with the control I had failed to find. shuddering breath and fought back the bile-filled words that rose to the tip of my tongue – they were none of them the kind that could appropriately be spoken to an elder brother who was also my king. . threw myself on the bed and called for sura.BHIMSEN 229 Episode 51 Drupada and Virat. walked out of the assembly hall.” my brother said. “And if you intend to dispute it. reasonable – but it emerged as a roar of disgust. someone. they would be looking to me to arrive and take my place at their head. “We must try for peace at all costs. right now. The Matsya army would be in training. Yudhishtira caught my eye and signaled me to wait. build a second Indraprastha. I felt it burn its way through my senses to the point where I had to clasp my hands tight behind my back to keep from hitting something.” Anger for me starts as a throb in the soles of my feet. then the war you threatened will start right here. it was he who took the jug from her and had a long drink. I spun on my heel and stormed out of the room.” I took a long.

had defended it during the regency of Dhritarashtra and Pandu—it was beneath him to take up arms against the upstart son of the palace charioteer who had attached himself to a gullible prince. It seemed hardly the time to tell him that his sister would in all likelihood end up living in a mud hut in a small village somewhere.BHIMSEN 230 “My spy just returned from Hastinapura. even as he takes his sons’ part?” “Arjuna. “God. and guess who Dhritarashtra is most frightened of. while Duryodhana struggled to pacify the two acharyas. Besides. “Bhisma said Hastinapura had been his by right.” Dhritarashtra and Vidura had been engaged in an ongoing. including Indraprastha. and were living well at the expense of the Kauravas while secretly espousing the Pandava cause. Karna in open assembly said something a bunch of old men who had attached themselves to Hastinapura. Apparently Karna stormed out of the hall. he clearly was pleased at the thought of dissension in the Kaurava camp at this critical moment. even one as close to me as this young man was. and who had been thrown a crown like you throw a dog a bone. “I wish I had been there to see the scene. “When Bhisma argued in our favor. Bhisma and Gandhari were on Vidura’s side. that he had ruled as regent through the time of Duryodhana’s grandfather. that was between me and my brother – I couldn’t speak about it to an outsider. shut himself up in his chambers in Duryodhana’s palace and has since refused to attend the assembly.” There was immediate uproar.” he told me.” Dhristadyumna chortled as he narrated the story. the spy reported. “Oh. the spy had reported.” The Panchala prince had been spoiling for war ever since he arrived in Matsya. Drona and Kripa had taken offense at Karna’s words. argument ever since Sanjaya returned to Hastinapura.” That was an easy guess for me to make – my younger brother had just single-handedly routed the cream of the Kaurava . “Things are not going well there. and very acrimonious. Karna challenged Bhisma to a duel. they had both tried to persuade Dhritarashtra to overrule Duryodhana and to give us half the kingdom.

“I want to hear your opinions. Duryodhana has been trying to convince him that he can win with the mace against you – Bhima has been living the life of a hermit in the forest while he has been practicing under Balarama’s tutelage. one by one. my spy told me. Finding me in no mood to share his exhilaration.” Krishna looked grim. his eyes fixed on me. . I deduced that this was not a task he welcomed. the old king wept in open court as he recounted the umpteenth recurrence of this dream. Duryodhana repeatedly reminds his father.” Yudhishtira said. and this time I was calm — judging by the expressions of the others as they listened to me. The blind king has been repeatedly saying that he is unable to sleep nights because in his dreams he sees visions of you picking out his sons. it didn’t take a great leap of imagination to anticipate what he would do when backed by the full strength of the Pandavas and allies. “I have decided to make one last bid for peace.” Yudhishtira said once we were all settled in our seats. perhaps too much so. “No. from his expression. and killing them. Only one person in the world apparently didn’t trust my strength and Arjuna’s skill and the loyalty of our allies – unfortunately for us. I was woken up by a messenger with a summons to come immediately to the audience hall. I lay on my couch.” I sighed. as were my three younger brothers. but Dhritarashtra is not convinced.” laughed Dhristadyumna.” I said. “And instead of sending a regular messenger. Krishna and Satyaki were present. the serial humiliations that had been our lot ever since our father died in the forest and we entered Hastinapura as young children all unknowing of what the future held for us. Dhristadyumna took one last swig at the jug and went off to find Satyaki. seated on the throne in the absence of Virat and Drupada.BHIMSEN 231 army. I have asked Krishna to go to Hastinapura and speak on our behalf – he will tell the Kauravas war can be avoided if they give us five villages for our own. my eyes on the ceiling and my mind endlessly replaying the many difficulties and dangers. Dhristadyumna walked in just as I entered. “I have no opinion. The other day. “It’s you. that happened to be the brother who led us. Yudhishtira was there.

we would finally avenge that insult – and now the best you can offer her is the prospect of sharing our lives in some mud hut in a village?!” “I have heard your thoughts.” Krishna seemed about to say something more. “What manner of men are we that we sit here and talk of bargaining for peace with those who dragged our wife.” Nakula never had an opinion about anything and even if he did. cut into the strained atmosphere in the hall. Since your objective is the preservation of the race and not the avenging of our numerous wrongs. He subsided.BHIMSEN 232 “You are the eldest. “But I haven’t heard anything to convince me to revoke my decision. the great warrior has second thoughts? Those are the words of a eunuch. “I agree with Yudhishtira. not what I expected from the mighty Bhimsen!” “If you expected anything better from the son of the impotent Pandu it was your fault. the woman we had sworn to protect. my voice even softer.” “The Kurus are not known for consulting their women or even for considering them!” Draupadi’s voice. but he must have spotted something in my face – something that hinted at things he was not aware of. it is your decision to make. if that is what you in your wisdom think will avoid war. But the thought of taking up arms against our gurus and our great grandsire – that has been troubling me no end. into open assembly and in our presence.” Yudhishtira cut in. “As war nears. Krishna will go to Hastinapura as our final envoy. what is there for me to say? I am willing to work as Duryodhana’s slave.” Krishna jumped up from his seat. rarely voiced it in public. invited her to join Duryodhana’s harem? She has lived for 13 years in the hope that when our exile was over. I turned around and spotted her . It was Sahadeva who strode out into the middle of the hall.” I said.” Arjuna said as our brother turned to him. Krishna. his slender frame shaking with an anger he made no attempt to control. “I am done – I have nothing further to say. drenched in tears. “I am not worried about the Kauravas or by Karna – I know their caliber.

“This hair!” With a flick of her hand. The hair I loved to run my fingers through. Krishna lifted her up like a baby and. it is by this hair that he dragged me into the midst of everyone. Dhristadyumna jumped up and ran out after his sister. Draupadi tossed her long. wiping away her tears and speaking to her in a soft voice. sat with her in his lap. that at the end I caught a slight smile on her face. though it could have been a trick of the light. As she walked into the hall.BHIMSEN 233 standing behind a pillar – she must have been there all along. with a long shudder of sorrow. her sobs like so many knives piercing our hearts. With a final word to him. Ignoring Yudhishtira. Since that day. Draupadi walked away without a glance for any of us. her eyes were fixed on me. For 13 long years I haven’t shed a tear. listening to our discussion. but you – of the insult I suffered. who will go to the home of my enemies and ask for five villages as the price of my honor! You – who once told me that you would not rest content until the day I wash my hair with the blood of my enemies. “So finally it is you. because I did not want my tears to drown the fire of my anger…” None moved. luxurious tresses over her right shoulder so they hung in front of her. when she lay on top of me… “It is this hair Dushasana grabbed that day as I sat in my chambers. Krishna. hair she covered me with. she walked straight up to Krishna. . I haven’t braided it to remind you – not my husbands. a curtain of the sheerest black. Satyaki hurried to catch up with his friend and in passing. from whom I expect nothing. her face cleared. sank to the floor of the hall. carrying her off to one corner of the hall. like night itself. gave me a look of such unbridled contempt I did not know whether to shrink into myself or fell him with a blow. I even thought. no one spoke as Draupadi. to weave flowers into during those moments when she was mine. and cringe. Gradually. a strange pity in her expression that made me wonder.

I ran . I brushed them aside brutally and. In my own private frenzy. I roared. the brass knob at the blunt end striking the inflamed boil. My arm went back. An elephant. Some tried to stop me. I sat in the hall for a long. striving futilely to bring it under control. It was in masth. it took just one glance to spot what had triggered its frenzy. dominated the courtyard while several dozen soldiers and mahouts ringed it.BHIMSEN 234 “Since this is what you want. I used to think sometimes that it was a wonder I did not break out in masth during the four years when Draupadi lived with one or other of my brothers. I threw the spear. It flew true. grabbing a spear from the hands of one of the soldiers as he stumbled out of my way.” Krishna said in a voice cold with fury. I go to Hastinapura now. and the one I used when we trained with the army. its ears flattened and front knees bent slightly in the characteristic sign of an animal about to charge. its twin tusks pointed at me. The elephant screamed in an explosion of pain and range. with the full strength of my shoulders. I ran down the steps and through the ring of soldiers surrounding the maddened beast. tossed it in the air and caught it with the point facing down. its eye glowing red in the surrounding whiteness of the pus that strained to break out. The old mahout who had been my instructor in the paddock of Hastinapura had told me that it mostly occurred when an elephant’s sex drive was at its peak and it was denied. It was the sound of considerable commotion in the courtyard outside that woke me from my reverie. close to its right eye was a huge boil. accumulated anger at my brother’s meekness. king. I knew this one – it was one of the most ferocious in the Matsya stables. long time – long after the others had gone. Seeing my approach. its head lowered. at this latest humiliation piled on top of the dozens of others powering my voice. On its forehead. trumpeting in rage. and I waited my turn with growing impatience. the elephant threw its trunk up and trumpeted in rage.

laughing openly now while Dhristadyumna and Satyaki smiled broadly. I thought it was one of those tales court singers invent. I turned and strode away. I hadn’t reckoned with Draupadi’s knack of slipping behind pillars and listening in on our conclaves. . confused. Satyaki and Draupadi standing off to one corner. roaring my own defiance as I went. war will be inevitable. Stepping up close. gentling me till I felt my feverish rage subside. and saw the laughter in her face.” she said. Its trunk came down. the elephant must have smelt it on me. “So it really is true.” It was a little over a week before Krishna returned. berserker violence and today. but he will deliver it in a way that will invite refusal. Mahouts swarmed around it. working with the beast I had tamed that day. I ignored him and brushed past. “You want to fight? You too think I am a eunuch born to a neuter? Come – try me!” Animals have an extraordinarily sharp sense for fear – they can smell it on you even before you sense it in yourselves. the roiling anger within me still seeking an outlet – and saw Dhristadyumna. watching. “Bhima can battle a masth-maddened elephant bare-handed.” It was Draupadi’s voice. He told me what he was going to do – don’t worry. “So who was that anger really directed at?” Dhristadyumna smiled. when he returns. stroking softly.BHIMSEN 235 towards it. she laid a hand on my arm. “It is a good thing you didn’t take up your brother’s challenge this morning in the assembly hall. “Hush! It is going to be okay – Krishna will take your brother’s message. But they also have the ability to sense killing rage. hastily attaching chains to its feet while one distracted it with a huge bunch of bananas. the tusks gradually rose as it swayed about where it stood. A messenger came with an urgent summons to where I was.” I turned to face them. they turned and came behind me as I strode away.

. “O king. “I have no intention of going at length into all that transpired in the assembly hall at Hastinapura. Yudhishtira. he seemed to grow in size and heft to the point where he towered above us all – a dominant. not in the way Yudhishtira had expected. “I delivered the message Yudhishtira entrusted me with in his exact words. once I was seated. By some strange trick of the imagination. rather than risk war – not for a statesman who seeks to avoid widespread devastation out of a sense of humanity.” All eyes were on Yudhishitira. Someone as arrogant as Duryodhana would respond only one way to what he thought was a message born of fear. letting the silence build. and stayed silent. not fear. I took him aside and asked him how he had been so sure his mission would have only one outcome.” Krishna laughed. and I will deal with it in my own way. I will not talk of the insults I personally endured at the hands of Duryodhana and others — that is my affair. Later that evening. Virat. Satyaki even Prince Uttara. “Here in sum is Duryodhana’s message for you: Forget five villages. You want to hear his exact words? ‘I will not give up to Yudhishtira and the Pandavas as much land as can be covered by the head of a pin. but my tone was that of a beggar.” It seemed to me Krishna had fulfilled his mission – only. daunting presence. He sighed. my brothers and Dhristadyumna. hands on hips. who sat there with his chin in his cupped palm. It was the tone of one speaking on behalf of cowards who would accept something. anything. for once.” Krishna addressed Yudhishitra. Draupadi. “Because I know the ways of the arrogant. in front of his father and the assembled acharyas. was seated in the hall and not hiding behind a pillar – I learnt later that Krishna had expressly demanded her presence when he delivered his message. Krishna stood in the middle of the hall.BHIMSEN 236 Everyone was already assembled when I ran in.’ he told me in open court. he will not even give you five houses to call your own. still covered in the muck of the paddock – Drupada.

She has a message for you. and see you installed on its throne in the very hall where you endured what no woman can ever endure’. is to protect his people – a king who could not even protect his wife.’ “And finally. almost beneath his breath. and I will pray to all the gods to forgive me the crime I was forced to commit that day. ‘My sons. “I have a message for Draupadi. Yudhishtira. or avenge her humiliation. The task of a king. and I will give it to you in her own words. king. your brother. into the river. being dragged by her hair into the great hall at Hastinapura. and threw him. he said.” “Those are the messages I bring with me. I will forgive. Arjuna. . I will spend the rest of what remains counting the days till the day I can stand at the gates of Hastinapura and welcome you. the 13 years that I have spent without sight of my children. “So. “She says to you. ever. I will not permit you in my presence until you have fulfilled that duty – no matter who tries to oppose you. Bhima.” Krishna told Yudhishtira. my first and most beloved daughter. nor forgive. “Abhimanyu’s wedding…” he muttered. friend or foe. even to his life’. and to you.” Krishna stared at Yudhishtira for a long moment before turning to where we sat. and I will never forgive those who inflicted on her the humiliation of being exposed to the gaze of the multitude while her menstrual blood ran down her legs and puddled at her feet. To the two of you she says. how the Kauravas poisoned my second son. I will never. ‘But there is one thing I can neither forget. clad only in one flimsy robe.BHIMSEN 237 “I met your mother.” Krishna said. its queen.” Turning to her. has no right to his name. hands and feet tied beyond possibility of escape. Yudhishtira: ‘My son.” Krishna said. my life is nearing its end. forget the sight of Draupadi. even forget. I will forget how they tried to burn us in our beds. breaking the silence as it stretched to unbearable lengths. I will never forget the sight of her standing there. your destiny. “Your mother entrusted me with a message to you. You have my blessings. it is your duty. “Your mother tells you this: ‘My child. when I caused the death of an innocent woman and her five children. what is your decision?” Yudhishtira sat in silence for long moments. I will forgive the years of privation they forced you to endure. to put your elder brother on the throne of Hastinapura.

His face was clear.BHIMSEN 238 The silence dragged on. his voice calm and even as he gave his decision in one word: “War!” . facing us all. And then he stood.

keeping soldiers from their rest. The priests. the five of us gathered at the mandap at Krishna’s behest to discuss the central question that would impact on all our preparations. On our side of the river.BHIMSEN 239 Episode 52 The first order of business when preparing for war is to set up the cremation ground. The question was. Its location determines so much else – you don’t want to site the army’s tents too close. A day after our arrival at Kurukshetra. adjoining the borders of Matsya. who had travelled to Kurukshetra with us. were engaged in putting up lodges for the main warriors and tents for the army. On the other side. a huge yaga mandap had already come up. Kekaya. who was best fitted to lead? . hundreds of bows and thousands of arrows were ferried on enormous ox carts from Dwaraka and Panchala where. Matsya. and must now learn to fight as a unit under one single leader. with Yudhishtira’s lodge situated right next to it. Panchala. metal workers had been engaged in building an armory for the entire year that we had spent in exile. augmented by a contingent sent from Panchala. under orders from Krishna and Drupada. swords and spears. nor can it be located so far that the process of mourning the day’s dead and attending to their last rites becomes too time consuming. a series of wooden lodges were being constructed for the womenfolk. Assembling to fight on our behalf were soldiers from Kasi. Draupadi. Pandya and Mathura – armies that had fought under different flags and different commanders. was already installed in one of Virat’s hunting lodges near the border. Chedi. Our cremation area was located on the banks of a small river that branched off from the Yamuna. cowhide shields. A swarm of workers from Matsya. sages and hermits who would do the daily sacrifices and pujas were the first to arrive. A series of large warehouses had been constructed near the tree-line to stock our arsenal. and had already settled down in little grass cottages on the periphery of the mandap. Maces.

thought long before advancing the name of King Drupada. and had supported us with men and materials. From our spies we already knew we would be outnumbered by the Kaurava forces. untouched by the general revelry.BHIMSEN 240 Sahadeva proposed that Virat should lead us. What was needed was not measured majesty. lean. Dhristadyumna told me. he pointed out. and had returned to Panchala only because he wanted to be a part in what he knew would be the ultimate battle. but did not think that these constituted good reasons to name Virat as commander in chief – he was. one who would attack ferociously at every opportunity. all the more unfettered for knowledge of the war to follow. . did not have much experience of large wars. king of a land that lived on fairly amicable terms with its neighbors and. but a young leader schooled in the arts of war. all forms. Nakula. I observed him at practice and recognized him for a master of all weapons. removed from the rest of the revelers. I said with all due respect to Drupada. he argued. “Shikandi. all said and done. The Kaurava forces. “So who do you suggest?” Yudhishtira asked. and who was no respecter of persons and reputations. bronzed warrior who carried his weapons even in the wedding hall and who stood aloof. The Matsya monarch had treated us on par with himself from the moment our identities were revealed. wandered the earth as a mercenary hiring himself out to any king who needed his services. I didn’t agree. I agreed with all of that. in his deliberate fashion.” It was during Abhimanyu’s wedding celebrations that I had first seen this eldest son of Drupada. He had. Shikandi alone was unmoved. he argued. I found myself strangely drawn to this tall. only Drupada among us had the stature and the gravitas to lead against such venerable men. it was his eyes that struck me: cold. unblinking eyes of one to whom killing was both passion and joy. dead. A good suggestion but again. In the days following the wedding. as a consequence. Our celebrations were wild. But above all. would be led by patriarchs like Bhisma and acharyas like Drona and Kripa.

who knows when to hold and when to attack. to roam where he will and cause devastation as he sees fit. identifying their leaders. organizing them in units. A skilled charioteer adds immeasurably to your ability in . “But I have another name to propose. These hubs were fitted with large-bladed.” None of us had considered the Panchala prince as a possible commander. two-edged swords. “Shikandi is eminently qualified. Dhristadyumna was formally installed as commander in chief of the Pandava forces. didn’t affect the maneuverability of the chariot and hinder the warrior’s ability to fight from its platform. Arjuna engaged himself with the arsenal. Drona and Kripa. when fitted. the finest warrior of us all: Dhristadyumna. even if I was mounted on elephant-back I wanted my chariot close. I agree with Bhima – against an army led by Bhisma. but when Krishna named him. examining the weapons as they came in and paying particular attention to the ones he had studied on his travels. we need a leader who is young. driven at speed into the massed ranks of the enemy. and is skilled to spot opportunities and switch strategies at an instant’s notice. been working to create hubs that would fit over the chariot wheels. someone who has mastered the strategies of war. Nakula and Sahadeva busied themselves with the task of settling them down. Soldiers continued to pour in from all corners. and it did my heart good to see him. A group of iron workers in Dwarka had.BHIMSEN 241 “All the three names have merit. to my mind. He is a loner who is most effective when left unencumbered. so I could switch at will. I expected to fight mostly from a chariot.” said Krishna. When I got back to my little lodge. The person I propose is his younger brother and. an auspicious time was picked and next morning. the designs for which he had passed on to Mayan before we went into hiding.” Visokan said with his usual mixture of insolence and respect. but I have seen something of him on the field. the swords would churn through flesh and cause enormous havoc. I found an unexpected visitor waiting for me. but care had to be taken to make sure the hubs. we broke out in spontaneous acclamation. setting up meetings between them and Dhristadyumna. My concern was with the chariots and the elephants. Yudhishtira summoned the priests. on my urging. “You look older at 35 than I do at 45.

and Visokan alone among all the charioteers I knew had the uncanny ability to anticipate the movements of the enemy and my own needs. and when Dhritarashtra and Drona both added their voice to the argument. tight – and mentally cursed myself. cleverly I thought. “Your son.” I hugged him to me. Duryodhana argued. the young man in princely raiment seemed very familiar. And Arjuna had failed to recognize Abhimanyu when he arrived for his marriage to Uttara. for only the second time in my life. how my son was doing. Balarama however wanted no personal part in the conflict. Even as I tried to recall where I could have seen him before. Duryodhana argued. Even when Visokan told me he was coming from Kasi. he came up to me and kneeling. it had never occurred to me to ask how Balandhara was. and had decided to go on a pilgrimage once the war began.” Visokan said. Krishna in open assembly swore he would not take up arms in the event of war. no less. Duryodhana had already approached Balarama and got from him a pledge that the Yadava army would fight on the Kaurava side. was going to drive Arjuna’s war chariot – which had already arrived from Dwaraka. and could operate without commands from me. It was not thus seemly for him to then take sides in the conflict. meeting and mating with women in various kingdoms and then promptly forgotten all about them. the son I had through Draupadi. yoked to six horses of a pristine. my brother co-opted Krishna’s services as charioteer. It was as we travelled from Matsya to Kurukshetra that I had met Suthasoman. blinding whiteness. “There is someone waiting to see you. that Krishna’s role as mediator implicitly suggested neutrality. For some reason I couldn’t immediately pinpoint.” the young prince said as I raised him to his feet. . It was during his visit to Hastinapura that Krishna by default became Arjuna’s charioteer. Krishna. My mother is Balandhara.BHIMSEN 242 battle. “I am Sarvaga. We had wandered around the world. By then. When Krishna returned to Matsya and told Arjuna of what had transpired. touched my feet in obeisance.

evidently come to do battle on my behalf.” “And you?” “I have a place to stay. Her sons and grandchildren are going to war for the sake of the family name and honor – where else would she be?” “I will come with you back to your lodge. “No. “Your mother thought you would say that. my son. I can see you safe.” Balandhara said.” . some quirk that did not let me see beyond my constant obsession with Draupadi. in the gentle voice that had captivated me all those years ago. “You cannot be bothered with me now. yet during our time in exile and even during the one year we spent in hiding and the weeks after we revealed our identity. and all the excuses I made for my neglect of Hidimbi and Balandhara were just that: self-serving excuses.” “Mother is here?” “Yes. “I wanted you to meet your son first. and also pay respects to mother. She said to tell you that she would see you and your brothers the day you win the war and install Yudhishtira on the throne of Hastinapura – not before. Kasi was so close.BHIMSEN 243 Sarvagan was a boy. to see the girl who had taken me as husband. I invited mother and son into the inner room. We kshatriyas cannot afford to be blinded by affection. “I am staying with Vidura – and your mother. and I saw those laughing eyes dim with tears.” I said. There was something about me. it had never occurred to me to go there. that is why we are so indifferent to those who love us. “No. looking from me to our son and back again. and yet here he was.” Balandhara said as she came up to me and touched my feet. She stepped away from me.” my wife said. in a lodge on the other side of the river. you are here to fight a war. Our son will stay with the Kasi army. and who had let me go with a smile on her face.” Balandhara said. with the gentle firmness that was so much a part of her. She walked into my lodge now with that same gentle smile – and the sight of her pierced my heart. calling on Visokan to bring a chariot around. I told myself – but I knew I was lying to myself. still.

apply this. The horses jumped forward.” She took a pinch of blood-stained ash and applied a tilak to my forehead. but it was on my skin that I felt the sting of that lash. I tried to take her in my arms. who hurried out to bring a chariot for her. her face crumpled in tears.BHIMSEN 244 She nodded at Visokan. we of Kasi do a yaga for Durga.” she said. I summoned a soldier from the group that guarded our lodgings. offer up sacrifices. “Every morning. .” she said. afterwards…” Her voice broke. Sarvagan touched my feet. Visokan helped her onto the chariot. “I had a yaga done for you and for our son. And maybe. and ordered him to take Sarvaga to the lodge where Suthasoman and the other sons of Draupadi were staying. took up the reins and cracked his whip. as you go to do battle. then unwrapped a small package she was carrying. and went out. Balandhara stood looking after him. “Victory will be yours. she pushed me aside and hurried out without a backward glance. “Before a war.

Earlier in the evening.” he said.” Arjuna would. During the long hours of training. which marked him out as a born leader. Arjuna said. Satyaki. be in charge of deciding the daily battle formations. Virat. the commands and instructions he conveyed in the soft tone that was so much more effective than a raised voice. That morning. Tomorrow morning. organized them in seven divisions and placed Drupada. he announced. With a fingertip. to test each other’s strength. take the measure of the Kaurava army and learn all we can of their various commanders and battle strategies. “Both armies will be looking to feel each other out. On the first day. I had felt the crushing weight of the burden Dhristadyumna and Arjuna had placed on me. Ever since taking charge as commander in chief. Yudhishtira and Arjuna. “The fighting on the first day will be tentative. “He has traveled widely and has more experience than any of us. he summoned us to a final council of war – the six commanders. He would personally lead the seventh division. the war would begin.” Dhristadyumna reasoned. There was something about the ceaseless energy with which he moved from camp to camp. the Kekaya king Chekitana and me in charge of each.BHIMSEN 245 Episode 53 The muted roar of an armed camp washed over me as I lay in the dark. explaining the need to place the faster cavalry on the two curved sides of the crescent where they could use their speed to circle the enemy and . Our goal has to be to minimize damage. the young Panchala prince seemed to be everywhere at once. he had taken the measure of the various armies that had come to fight on our behalf. he sketched the formation in the sand. yet I felt a strange sense of peace. Shikandi. while doing one final check of my chariot and weapons. we would fight in the crescent formation.

was the center. “if you and Dhristadyumna and the other commanders are off to the sides?” Arjuna glanced at Dhristadyumna before replying. If our spies are right. the knowledge of my role – and the confidence my brother and Dhristadyumna had in me — weighed like a stone even as I went about the business of stocking up on arrows. and our chances for success depended on my ability to withstand its might. while the elephants formed the solid center that would hold the enemy at bay.” Visokan interrupted my thoughts. “Bhima.” Dhristadyumna said. with Shikandi and Chekitana.” Yudhishtira asked.” “Who will hold up the center. Who else is capable of resisting the combined might of the Kauravas?” For the rest of the day. the Kauravas have at least four divisions more than we do. and create opportunities for us to attack from the flanks. organizing my arsenal efficiently in my chariot. “I will lead from the left side tip of the crescent.” . “Kesavan. King Virat and Satyaki will support him. Yudhishtira.” The key to the formation. Arjuna explained. the pressure will fall on the center. “As the armies on the crescent swing out on the sides. For all the pride I had in my strength and abilities. This was war against a far superior opposing force. I have spent enough time discussing war-craft with Bhismacharya to know how he thinks – he will create a formation with the main warriors in some form of massed center. The man who leads our center has to be able to withstand this concentrated assault. to overwhelm us. bows and strings. using it as a ram to hammer the opposition. and the forces led by my father. will protect the rear from attack and press forward in support of the main armies as required. along with Abhimanyu and the other princes. “He will be your war elephant. the acharya will want to achieve an early advantage. spare maces and swords and. I felt the first stirrings of doubt.BHIMSEN 246 attack the flanks. so we can expect a fierce surge. with Visokan to help. “Arjuna will take the right side tip. then. this was not personal combat or even a skirmish against a neighborhood raiding party.

dragging Draupadi around by her hair. I never had since that day in the forest so long ago.Dushasana strutting around in the center. my friends down. the burden I had to bear. the elephant will be alongside our chariot at all times so you can switch at will. . I lay on the grass mattress in the middle of the room. What frightened me now – and I realized fear was the right word – was the prospect of letting my brothers. I felt a sudden. I slept. when I had stood paralyzed in the path of the charging boar. not as large as some others in our stable but very quick and responsive. “I have organized two mahouts for your use. The great hall of Hastinapura. when the next day dawned. slapping his thigh in lecherous invitation while Karna laughed and egged him on. sipping from the jug and trying not to think of what I had to do. deep sense of calm descend on me.BHIMSEN 247 I knew the beast he had named – a fierce tusker that had come along with the contingent from the Pandyas in the south. An image spread unbidden to mind. Duryodhana seated on his throne. my sons.” He left me with a small jug of sura. I did not fear death.

walked out of my lodge just as Yudhishtira drove up in his chariot. Shalya.” said Yudhishtira. I walked over to the mandap and stood for a long moment in prayer. Visokan was waiting for me beside the war chariot I would be using – a massive vehicle drawn by six gray horses and flying my battle standard: a rampant lion with emerald green eyes. but I felt the light caress of a breeze. “I paid my respects to them all — Bhismacharya first. “It is Krishna’s suggestion. Maybe I was imagining it. and after applying the tilak of sandal-paste and blooddrenched kumkum. and hoped the ‘father’ I had revered through my childhood. Though it permitted unfettered movement. The priests had already performed their yagas to the gods. where the designated commanders were already assembled. had come to be with his son in the war to follow. “They . and the puffiness around his eyes suggested a sleepless night. then Kripa. who arrived shortly after me. it moulded itself to the shape of my body. Vaayu. when I pointed out that Duryodhana’s capacity for treachery was endless. it was tough enough to withstand spears and arrows except when the range was really close. We drove towards Dhristadyumna’s lodge.” he said. unarmed and heading towards the Kaurava camp to seek the blessings of the elders.BHIMSEN 248 Episode 54 The chest protector Visokan had procured for me from a supply the Pandya kingdom had sent over was unlike anything I had ever used before. Arjuna was also engaged in prayer. Made of specially treated cowhide and supple as a second skin. I strapped on the protector and arm guards made of the same material. I got the sense that all was not well. Drona. Though we didn’t talk.

The giant swords attached to the hubs of my chariot wheels churned through the flesh of opposing troops. the drumbeat picked up pace. a single conch blared from the extreme left of the field. helpers busied themselves installing on his war chariot the ornate white umbrella that signified the presence of the king. the screams of the wounded drowned out the blare of conches and the beat of the drums. Dhristadyumna had signalled the charge. The thump of mace on skull. The pungent smell of fresh blood swamped my senses. acquired a sudden urgency. I spun around and forced a way back to my elephant. uncaring if my men were with me. Hopping down from my chariot with mace in hand I plunged into the middle of the opposing forces. As the massed ranks of the Kauravas came into view. and to the various captains of the division under my command. To the blare of trumpets. I listened carefully to the beat. When I felt my arms tire. to the varying patterns that send signals across the line from commander to commander. A section of the Kalinga army charged forward to intercept me. mounted. said victory would be ours. “They blessed me. As the first faint rays of the rising sun lit up the eastern horizon. As our forces raced across the plain. Visokan accelerated. the horses responding instantly to his whip.” As Yudhishtira spoke. firing arrows from the deck of my chariot seemed too impersonal to slake the sudden killing rage that welled up inside me. The army had begun to form up in the crescent prescribed by Arjuna. I jumped off the chariot and walked over to give final instructions to the mahout leading Kesavan my war elephant. Visokan spotted Duryodhana’s chariot with the royal standard and white umbrella of the king and drove towards it.BHIMSEN 249 all said the same thing — that if I had not come to seek their blessings they would have cursed me. our armies marched forward onto the plain.” Krishna smiled in satisfaction. I guided him into the . the sharp sounds of bones cracking under my onslaught fuelled my frenzy. conches blared and the big war drums boomed. Visokan drove me to my appointed spot at the center of the formation.

wagons rushed past into the field of battle to carry the wounded back to camp and the day’s dead to the cemetery. I sensed that all was not well with our right flank. when you feel pressure intensifying from any particular direction. by the rules of engagement worked out by both sides. starting on a high note and descending into a thin wail. A sudden blare of trumpets. it was time for the day’s fighting to end. he told me at length about the battle ‘Brihannala’ had fought. Drupada and Satyaki had already gathered there. I had no sense of how the larger battle was unfolding – before me. Our forces reversed direction and marched back in the direction of the camp. Pacing around the chamber. looking downcast.BHIMSEN 250 middle of the Kalingas and realized that Visokan had chosen well — Kesavan responded with a berserker fury that matched my own. Krishna. trampling everything that came before him as I stood on his back and rained arrows down on the opposing troops. there is a problem. When a formation is holding. From where I stood. there was only the next throat to pierce with an arrow. I headed for Dhristadyumna’s lodge. you know that out there somewhere on that flank. as we hurried to where food and rest awaited us. the pressure created by the opposing forces is spread evenly across the line.” Yudhishtira said. I finished training with the Matsya army and returned to my chambers to find Uttara waiting for me. The Matsya prince had engaged Shalya’s forces in a terrific battle.” he told me. “Uttara is dead. in the here and now. Time lost all meaning. I remembered a day soon after we had revealed our identity. woke me from the trancelike state of close combat. “He fought with rare courage. All the strategies and tactics I had learnt under Kripa and Drona seemed so pointless now. Somewhere in the periphery of my mind. Arjuna. It was dusk. the next head to crush with my mace. of how amazed he was that one man could . Arjuna sat by himself in a corner. Shikandi.

I too will make my name one day. to avenge an insult to those who.BHIMSEN 251 defeat a massed force led by some of the most reputed warriors of the time. In the thick of battle. All along the route. were fighting on the side of the Kauravas. We had left the palace of Virat for Kurukshetra. It had taken a warrior of consummate skill and experience to kill the boy. he found well-appointed guest houses ready for him to rest in. Shalya had managed to cut through our troops and launched a ferocious attack on Yudhishtira. but Arjuna taught me what courage was. “Having accepted all that he had provided.” .” Shalya told Yudhishtira through a messenger. till just the other day. “I was frightened that day. armies of servants waited at each post to cater to his needs and those of his army. then jumped down from his elephant to meet the seasoned warrior with sword in hand. his demeanour grim. “My blessings will always be with you. speaking of how the prince had smashed Shalya’s chariot and stampeded his horses.” he had added. It was only when Duryodhana appeared before him at his final halt before Upaplavya that Shalya realized who was responsible for the lavish hospitality.” Yudhishtira said. when I first saw the Kauravas.” he told me. when our uncle set out with a large force and a considerable arsenal to join up with us. and were camped in Upaplavya on the outskirts of the Matsya kingdom. And now he lay dead. in a war not of his making. “And the sooner some of us realize this. king of Madradesa and brother to Madri cheriyamma – and yet he and his formidable forces.” he said that day. “I wanted to turn and run.” Dhristadyumna broke in. on whom we had built so much of our hopes. “His bravery in battle put me to shame. I’ll grow up into a warrior like him. I could not refuse Duryodhana when he asked me to fight on his behalf. the better. Shalya was our uncle. Uttara had charged up on the back of an elephant and engaged Shalya. “We are in a war. were strangers to him. Seeing our brother hard-pressed.

“We had a bad day today. and war was waging all around as Krishna spoke to Arjuna. knew that right was on the side of the Pandavas.” Dhristadyumna said.” Visokan said. “Krishna spoke to him at considerable length. He had argued with Dhritarashtra. One by one. Krishna said. he turned and walked out of the room. Something had happened that I did not know of. Bhisma had only one duty – to protect the kingdom he had sworn his allegiance to.” Visokan said. will all be wasted. then that is what he would . Kripa and Drona in the front rank. “Bhisma. “Another day or two like this. Throwing aside his bow. “Something he said stuck in Sumedhu’s memory. Sumedhu. his skilled fingers working the aches and pains out of my joints and the stiffness from my limbs when Visokan walked in. he had jumped down from his chariot and told Krishna that he could not continue – he would not commit the sin of turning his arms against his gurus. addressing no one in particular. “When we take the field tomorrow. heard only little and understood even less – he told me Krishna said something about life and death being only an illusion. to give Pandavas their due share of the kingdom. A masseur was working on my body. “Your brother nearly brought the war to an end before it had even begun. and the sacrifices so many people are making on your behalf. and it will all be over – the hardships you suffered all these years. and if in the process of doing that duty he had to kill the Pandavas.BHIMSEN 252 I sensed discomfort in the sudden silence that followed. As the two armies approached each other. and this didn’t seem the right time to ask. “It was Drupada’s charioteer who told me what happened.” he told me.” Abruptly. that it was the soul shedding its worn out clothes and changing into fresh ones. The charioteer. every one of us will have to be fully committed to do whatever it takes to win. Arjuna had caught sight of Bhisma. the rest of us drifted off to our respective lodges. “But once war was declared.” The two armies had met. pleaded with him to avoid war.

and yours just now is to fight those who have deprived you of what is your due. I stood at the doorway of the lodge. Off to one side.” Arjuna had finally taken up his arms and joined the battle. Krishna said. . and offered your wife the kind of insult no man. he saw Dhristadyumna entering the lodge Arjuna was sharing with Krishna.BHIMSEN 253 do. Every man has a duty. the sky glowed bright red from the flames of the cremation ground. much less a warrior. looking out into the night. but his efforts on the right flank were half-hearted – and it was on that side that we had taken the greatest losses. can forgive or forget. As he was coming here. Visokan said.

see everything and describe it all in the round. and permits him to be everywhere. The first. and making two episodes out of one. I had two directions to go. I was expecting more details of the war on Day 1. no way Bhim would have had the faintest notion what Krishna was telling Arjuna ahead of the battle. Those are not the only comments by a long way. Aarushi Chakravarti: You have not yet mentioned anything about sanjay’s role in “live commentary”. and an individualistic. so unlike the . Exemplars: Prahlad Rao: Honestly. no matter how crucial such events were. and most obvious. When I got to this bit [and I'll admit to dragging my feet a bit. I’d earlier planned on doing an extensive post at the end of the series.BHIMSEN 254 War Reporting Comments appended to the previous episode of Bhimsen. I was sort of hoping that there would be some demystifying explanation would come from you. There is. but they are typical: What the reader looked for and failed to find [Suresh Anchal wrote in to say he had been "impatiently waiting" for the war to begin. for instance. simply to postpone the moment when I had to get into 'war reporting']. point of view-driven narrative where the focus would be narrower and events outside the narrator’s experience would not form part of the narrative. but I now reckon a couple of points need to be made if the upcoming episodes are not to invite a similar sense of disappointment in you. point is about the detailing of the war. May be my expectation was too much. addressing a whole heap of issues. there is a difference between a fly-on-the-wall narrative that assumes omniscience on the part of the narrator. Clearly. I was a tad disappointed with the latest Bhim. sent in mail and posted on Twitter indicate a fair degree of ambivalence among readers. so he could read the descriptors] is detail.

I blocked out a couple of episodes that way and then jettisoned them. there was no room for me to get into an extended treatise based on the Gita. The story here is POV-driven. . I didn’t go there in the episode in question. Bound tight by ties of blood and of shared suffering. when stripped down to its essence. The reason — and I hope that will become apparent in future episodes — is because unlike the Mahabharat. what is happening in his immediate vicinity — he couldn’t tell you how Arjuna fought Bhisma. and throughout keeps the narration in tight focus. When Bhim fights. “Giving voice to the silences” is a speaking phrase. apparently came to the same decision — he too skims lightly over the details of the larger war. yes. for those who want them. it is the thought I’ve kept in front of me while writing successive episodes. I toyed initially with the idea of using the daily evening strategy meetings as a device to talk of the war outside of Bhim’s own immediate experience. and thus fill in the blanks. But even so. MT says he is merely “giving voice to the many silences” in the original. In those meetings. MT Vasudevan Nair. Forget the traditional trope of this being a battle between good and evil — what it is. Randaamoozham [and its loose recreation here] is not so much the story of a war as it is of a family. I could have the others narrate what they had seen and heard. easily available in print and on the net. or how Drona repeatedly cut the bow of Dhristadyumna. The exhaustive details of the war are. whose novel Randaamoozham provides the source material for this recreation. at best. and I’ll be going there even less in the episodes to come. or any of the other incidents that highlight the traditional narrative. is the story of a family fighting for survival. What is missing from the existing narrative is the sense of what happened behind the scenes. so the trick for me is to keep the narrative limited to what Bhim could have known about or been part of. In an extensive footnote appended to his book. such a family would come together against the perceived enemy. what he sees is the enemy immediately ahead and.BHIMSEN 255 many Vyasas who together composed the Mahabharat as we know it today.

bitter quarrels. It will. their world views. but of a group of human beings with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. recriminations. this version will focus more closely on these. there will be disagreements — even violent. in the process. in that sense. what you will find — I hope — is a narrative that slips into the silences that lurk beneath the sounds of war. Long story short. The popular version of the Mahabharat occasionally glances at such. united by a shared mission yet occasionally divided by their own personalities. “give voice to the silences” and. at times in extreme close-up. what you won’t find in the episodes going forward is exhaustive detail of who fought who how.BHIMSEN 256 as the pressures mount and stress escalates. paint a picture not of children of god on a divinely ordained mission where the outcome is a given. .

Dhristadyumna would be stationed at the left wingtip with Abhimanyu and Sarvadhan. the harder we tried to get to the leaders. The first day’s fighting had given him a good idea of Bhisma’s strategy. lead the formation. Arjuna had once told me. The Vidharbha king was an unexpected addition to our army. to kill or capture them at the earliest opportunity and thus render the opposing army leaderless. Dhristadyumna said.BHIMSEN 257 Episode 55 We are faced with a vastly superior force. while Arjuna controlled from the right wingtip with Satyaki and Drupada in support. We would exert all our energies to stop the Kaurava generals when they looked like causing havoc in our ranks. but Rukmini was enamored of Krishna with whom. would be Nakula and Sahadeva with the sons of Draupadi. Dhristadyumna pointed out when we met before dawn on the second day to decide on strategy. Yudhishtira and Virat would be positioned at the throat. That will not work for us here. we had only one goal – to kill indiscriminately. Years ago. . Dhristadyumna said. Arjuna decreed an eagle in flight as our battle formation for the day. she had been carrying on a clandestine correspondence through messengers and pigeons. Starting today. but outside of that we would ignore the generals and focus our energies on decimating the opposition troops. I would. to inflict maximum casualties on the opposing army. Each of the Kaurava generals had been protected by large segments of troops. At the feet of the eagle. the more losses we sustained against the numerically superior opposing forces. from the position of the eagle’s beak. protecting our rear from surprise attacks. The accepted strategy in war is to concentrate on the main commanders. and Rukmi in support. Rukmi had planned to marry his sister off to the Chedi king Shishupala.

I gloried in the task of killing all who came before me. he rushed forward with his mace only for Drona to cut it to pieces with his arrows. Dhristadyumna’s chariot lay shattered around him. but he and his men will help swell our numbers. often on foot and. when war was declared. At some point in the midst of my frenzy. Visokan drove my chariot straight at the center of the Kaurava army. giving me enough backing as I sought to batter my way through the opposition while out on the two wingtips.BHIMSEN 258 When time came for the marriage. Dhristadyumna continued to advance. he is not good enough to be in the front rank. when faced with massed troops. at my direction. but before letting him go Krishna forced him to shave off half his hair — the ultimate insult for a warrior. Rukmi gave chase with a band of select troops. Krishna arrived in Vidharbha in the guise of a guest and carried Rukmini off in his chariot.” As our army arrayed for battle. Fighting occasionally from my chariot. I jumped down onto my chariot and had Visokan charge straight at Drona. I had reason yet again to bless Arjuna for the long years he had spent wandering the country learning strategies and tactics from different lands. I headed in that direction and. but was routed by Krishna and Balarama. The large cutting swords attached to the axle of my chariot . Today I didn’t bother with any specific target. arrayed for the day in half moon formation. our leading warriors were able to range free. He had since made friends with Krishna and. I had spent a good part of time and energy trying to break through and get to Duryodhana. I saw our commander engaged in a terrific struggle against Drona. “As a warrior. offered his services. I became aware of signs of trouble to my left. as I watched. swinging his drawn sword to clear a path through the opposing foot soldiers and get at his tormentor. causing mayhem where and how they could. This was my kind of battle. “Use him in a defensive role. from my vantage point on Kesavan’s back. from the back of Kesavan the elephant. Rukmini’s earnest pleadings saved her brother’s life then. The formation he had suggested was the perfect answer to our requirement: it massed our troops in the eagle’s ‘body’. but he was clearly at a disadvantage. Yesterday.” Krishna had advised us.

I cut it into pieces. I cut his bow in half with another volley of arrows. using the momentum to augment my strength. Years ago. I timed my jump and grabbed its tusk with my left hand. was rushing to Drona’s aid. and where it is most vulnerable to pain. mounted on a mammoth tusker and leading a large force of elephants and men. before he could re-arm himself I sent a volley of arrows between the shafts of his chariot. Years ago. unprotected gap where its nerve endings are clustered. in the paddocks of Hastinapura. even as he turned his attention towards me. when we studied war craft under him in Hastinapura. As the old man tumbled out of the chariot and scrambled in the dust. grabbed my mace and was about to leap out of the chariot and close with him when Visokan warned of danger approaching from my right. With my first salvo I cut down his flagpole. As Drona hurriedly strung his spare bow. mace in hand. he had contemptuously rejected my skills as an archer and publicly said I was only fit to wrestle for the amusement of the public – today was my opportunity to pay him back. I swung the mace at that precise spot on its forehead I had been taught so long ago. I flung aside my bow. . Visokan told me later that he had never been as alarmed as when he saw me leap off the chariot and. Approaching the elephant at a dead run. run straight at Srutayu’s elephant. The Kalinga king Srutayu. Freed of their traces. I laughed out loud in triumph. ‘Fat fool!’ That long ago taunt rang in my ears. his horses bolted. which is the archer’s first line of defence. overturning the chariot as they broke free.BHIMSEN 259 churned through the opposing foot soldiers as I concentrated my fury on Drona. In the same motion. the old mahout who was my mentor had taught me of this one fatal weakness of the elephant: between the two masses of bone on its forehead there is a very small. cutting the bindings.

the most experienced warrior on either side. the beast swung around in a circle. “For all Krishna’s advice. with attendants applying herbal salves to multiple wounds on his arms and chest.BHIMSEN 260 Maddened by the pain. but the minute he catches sight of one of the gurus he loses his will. smashing the mace repeatedly onto that spot. “The battle went exactly as I had hoped. Srutayu’s elephant reared on its hind legs while I hung on for dear life. I saw Krishna stretched out on a plank bed on the floor of Dhristadyumna’s lodge. Arjuna has been reluctant to fight. which is exactly what I hoped they would do.” Dhristadyumna had once told me that the war would be won not by the seasoned generals and the acharyas.” he said. Srutayu jumped off the back of his elephant and straight into my path. Abhimanyu walked beside him. Dhristadyumna hugged me as I walked into his lodge for our evening review. I swung my mace in a crushing blow at his skull and roared in triumph as I felt the splatter of his blood on my face and arms. I don’t think they’ve understood what we are trying to accomplish – they kept throwing their soldiers at us. we inflicted heavy losses on their troops and took few losses of our own. To my surprise. but by the young – and it was increasingly easy to see why. He is fine when facing the troops. already scattered by the berserk fury of the elephants and now leaderless. Dhristadyumna pulled me aside. The Kalinga forces.” he said when we were out of earshot. Squealing in pain and rage. As his front feet hit the earth I swung again. continued to operate within the confines of convention. turned tail and ran.” . “That is the other thing I hoped would happen today. I raced back to my chariot and set off in pursuit. the other elephants panicked at the sight of the enraged tusker and stampeded straight into the midst of their own troops. He was breaking away from established strategies and tactics. “We had a good day today. shaking its head violently to dislodge me. slaughtering at will till the sudden blare of trumpets sounded the onset of dusk and the end of the day’s battle. Noticing my look of surprise. before he could recover his balance. adapting to the fact that we were outnumbered and finding his own solution to the problem while Bhisma. Arjuna was pacing the floor furiously. talking earnestly to his father.

” I stood still for long moments. You must tell my uncle to put Sarvadhan with cheriyachan [father’s younger brother] Nakula – we are somewhat weak in that section. “your son Sarvadhan is amazing! Trigartha and his men attacked us today while uncle Dhristadyumna was battling Drona – you should have seen Sarvadhan fight. A terrific clamor interrupted our meal. and making us proud with their deeds. bemused by the self-confidence of this boy who was yet to turn 16.” he announced. and my father tells me Arjuna fought so brilliantly. he never once spoke of his own part in the day’s battle. when they spoke of me it would be as the father of Sarvadhan. oof! He routed them all on his own.” Dhristadyumna told me. “The sight of Krishna bleeding drove your brother into a fury. In time to come. slaughtering soldiers in their dozens when Bhisma charged up in his chariot to oppose him. The old man was forced to turn his chariot about and race away from the field.” Abhimanyu walked with me as I returned to my lodge that night. His deeds today were. smiling broadly. Sutasoman. Prativindhyan… young boys of fifteen and sixteen who should by rights be enjoying their youth. as Abhimanyu’s uncle… We sat down to our meal. Arjuna lost his fervor. “A new group has come to join us. “Arjuna would have turned his chariot about rather than fight. Like the boy he really was. I was told. our chief claim to fame would be that we were their fathers.BHIMSEN 261 My brother was ranging free on the right. many on both sides nearby stopped to watch. Abhimanyu. so prodigious Dhristadyumna had decided to invite him to represent the younger generation in our daily council of war. “Valiyacha [father’s elder brother]. he spoke with enthusiasm of all that he had seen that day – but I noticed that even in the full flight of his excitement. perhaps. and I saw Trigartha fall wounded in his chariot.” he said as we walked. the grandsire however held nothing back in a ferocious attack. but by then some of Bhisma’s arrows wounded Krishna. Visokan came running in. they tell me. basking in the attentions of the palace maids and who instead were fighting beside us as equals. the real future of our race. Sarvadhan. he forgot who he was fighting. They were. I realized at that moment. “The .

I’ll see you in the morning – tell me what you expect of me. “Father. it’s a big tamasha…” Visokan darted out again. He had grown considerably since that last time I saw him.” Ghatotkachan smiled. touching Ghatotkachan’s feet. was that of a man full grown. and we have brought our food with us. while Abhimanyu and I looked at each other in bemusement. no one needs to worry about us – we are most at home sleeping on the ground. “News travels slowly to us who live in the forest. His voice. “No. . Moments later. father – and I have brought an army with me. a tall young man stepped through the door and prostrated at my feet.BHIMSEN 262 whole army has turned out to watch the fun – soldiers in carts drawn by bulls bigger than you have ever seen… dozens and dozens of wild horses… and they’ve even brought their own food – pigs.” He turned and strode out without a glance. cows… come. “I am here to fight on your side. and it will be done. under the stars. when he had with casual indifference gifted Yudhishtira Jatan’s head wrapped in a leaf and walked off into the forest without a word.” Abhimanyu said. when he spoke.” Ghatotkachan said as I raised him to his feet and looked at him in wonder – not least because I had to look up at him. see.” “I’ll take our brother to the lodge where we are staying.

we go after their leaders. during our council of war early in the morning of the fifth day. Since that moment in the great hall of Hastinapura when he had slapped his thigh and invited Draupadi to share his bed. “Not you – I don’t think you are ready. “No.” Dhristadyumna said.BHIMSEN 263 Episode 56 Beneath the belly of a maddened war elephant is the safest place to be. Cowering for life underneath an elephant was not how I had imagined the day would go when Dhristadyumna. but he was no respecter of persons or . We cannot afford to have you hesitate when confronted by the grandsire – and god forbid. no escape until one of us was dead. “It is time for a change in plan – from today. Each of us will pick one general in the Kaurava ranks and make him our primary target. it will cripple us. At that moment in time I was caught between the overwhelming relief that comes from having narrowly escaped certain death and the paralyzing fear that my time had come. It is also the scariest.” he said. Dhristadyumna quelled him with a glance. “We’ve killed many of their troops these last two days. With their troop numbers reduced. if Bhisma takes advantage of your hesitation and you end up wounded or worse.” My brother looked as if he was about to protest. I knew the day would come when I would face Duryodhana in battle — and there would be no let up. that I would end up as a red smear beneath the feet of the most fearsome war elephant I had ever encountered. Arjuna said he would seek out Bhisma and engage him in mortal combat. instructed us to slip the leash. Krishna had chosen well – the Panchala prince may be young in years.” There was no question about who I would pick. Dhristadyumna picked Drona. they don’t have as many men to protect the leaders.

the three prongs could hurtle into combat with great speed. and one of the most crucial was that charioteers and messengers were inviolate. while the foot soldiers would come up in support at need. “It is your job to harass Bhisma. made up the haft. “With Karna still sulking in his tent. Ahead of me. We need Arjuna’s skill with the bow and the special weapons he commands to wreck havoc among their armies.” In keeping with our changed tactics. Arjuna stationed himself at the junction of the three prongs. archers were arrayed in a wide curve linking the three prongs to the center while the slowest movers. but they still have the edge. he brooked no opposition. From his vantage point in the center.BHIMSEN 264 reputations and. That way. he explained. Arjuna arrayed the army in the shape of a trident with a large. Nakula and Sahadeva took position along the haft. representatives of both sides had agreed on the rules of combat. the sword and spear-wielding foot soldiers. Arjuna decreed that only fast moving cavalry backed by war elephants would comprise the three prongs. As dawn broke over the killing fields of Kurukshetra. The formation dictated our tactics for the day: at the first note of Dhristadyumna’s conch we would charge hard. We were greeted with a shower of arrows. while Yudhishtira. Arjuna would come up to support whichever of us met the greatest resistance. The day before the battle began. Rage surged within me when I realized he was deliberately aiming at Visokan and at the horses. Ghatotkacha and his men will back Arjuna up. buffered by an array of sword-wielding foot soldiers. the chariot lunged through the protective buffer and headed straight at Duryodhana. the archers would be able to cover all three prongs. while I led the central prong.” he told his brother Sikhandi. . it frees Arjuna to range at will – we have reduced their troop strength. I spotted the white umbrella signaling the presence of Duryodhana. our armies clashed to the hypnotic thump of the big drums and blare of battle conches. Dhristadyumna took the lead on the left prong and Shikandi the right. thick haft. when it came to fulfilling his role as commander in chief. hitting the Kaurava formation at three points along its length and looking to break through. Visokan needed no orders – his whip cracked.

when I sensed that he was not turning as quickly to keep me in his sights. I needed him to look into my eyes and see his death there long before I delivered the killing blow. “It is a small wound. struggling to keep me in his sights as we raced from his right to left. I scrambled to my feet and found myself confronting a beast I had heard of in the songs of the balladeers. drove Duryodhana away from the field. the wrongs he had inflicted on us.BHIMSEN 265 Visokan winced as he pulled out an arrow that had struck him in the shoulder. Supratika the elephant was. the left. Visokan whipped the horses and gave chase. I cut his bow string in half. more famous than his master Bhagadatta. who had opted to fight on the Kaurava side and who. spinning the chariot around at speed. His forehead and trunk were covered in a seamless sheet of pliant metal studded with wickedly pointed spikes. My salvo cut the bindings that linked his arm guards with his chest protector. if anything.” he said. I used my shield to deflect his volleys and waited for my moment. His charioteer sensed that his master was in danger and. He was now at my mercy. The accumulated memory of his insults. but killing Duryodhana with bow and arrow was no part of my plan. . I sent two arrows into his shoulder. the king of Pragjyothishpura and a one-time friend of our father Pandu. racing the chariot in tight circles around Duryodhana. I fired a stream of arrows aimed at his leading shoulder. Supratika was massive. At my signal he picked up the pace. a suppurating sore that called for the immediacy of personal combat. at an opportune moment. As the charging elephant lowered his tusks. I needed to get in close with mace in hand. I dodged to the left and dived under him. My rival was forced to turn in place. his mortal insult to Draupadi – all of it festered in my mind and soul. high to the left. I tossed my bow aside and was bending to pick up my mace when a terrific shock flung me out of the chariot and onto the ground. lifted his trunk and screamed his challenge. there was no discernible weakness I could target. had come to Duryodhana’s rescue. coming up on my feet under his belly. far larger than any elephant I had ever seen. don’t worry about me. distracting him and impeding his movements. The arm guard flapped free. with a third.

“Bhisma!” he yelled. drawn sword in hand. in the space of just two days. become a source of encouragement to us and of paralyzing dread in the Kaurava ranks. Again I heard that full throated scream with which my son marked his kills – a sound that had. jumped into the midst of Bhagadatta’s massed troops. Ghatotkacha’s elephant was a barely tamed beast of the jungle –swift on its feet and totally without fear. I was looking for some small opening in the opposing ranks so I could dash out from under the beast and look for safety in the midst of my own people. Supratika was massive – a mountain of flesh it was impossible to overwhelm in a direct charge. then crashed again into its side as I fired a stream of arrows at the ageing king. I turned on Bhagadatta. I turned that size to my advantage. “Father! Here!” Ghatotkacha stood on the back of his elephant. smaller elephant crashed into his side at full tilt. I watched his feet carefully to gauge his changes in direction. grabbed hold of the haft and scrambled up behind him. It was stalemate. my son tossed his bow and quiver at me and. His sword flashed. Supratika staggered sideways as another. But now that I was mounted on an elephant of my own. two others protecting its flanks. but it couldn’t last – I heard Bhagadatta yelling orders for archers to surround the elephant and fire at me. At the promptings of my goad it danced away from Supratika’s charge. I took a running jump. I leapt onto . Smarting under the humiliation of having had to hide under the belly of his beast. when I heard the ululating war cry I had already learnt to identify even amidst the din of battle.BHIMSEN 266 The elephant stopped in mid charge and began moving sideways. seeking his prey. Visokan drove up in my chariot. holding out a spear with its blunt end towards me. I glanced off to one side and spotted the grandsire’s chariot charging at speed in my direction. Waiting till he was sure I had found a firm seat on the beast. a head went flying through the air. I needed to do something before I was surrounded and flushed out. and moved when he moved.

master warrior though he was. he was so quick it felt as though I was being enveloped in a cloud of arrows. He did not protest when Duryodhana plotted to burn us alive. he sat silent while Draupadi was humiliated in open court. His charioteer broke free from our trap and drove the grandsire away from the field of battle. I felt the lash of accumulated memory. Bhisma was now trapped in a pincer. at least through his studied silences and his refusal to intervene. I found my . he might find his will sapped when confronted by the grandsire. grabbing up my own bow and quiver as the chariot turned to confront Bhisma’s charge. promptly angled my chariot off to the right. our grievances. He had vowed to be impartial.BHIMSEN 267 the ground. I saw one of my arrows striking home in the soft flesh on the inside of his right elbow. even at the age of 95. His first volley smashed my flagpole. he did not stand up for us when we were fobbed off with a barren patch of land at Indraprastha. but at every point in our tortured history he had sided with the Kauravas. hands working with marvelous speed to send arrows flying in an unbroken stream towards the embattled grandsire. seeking the source. and even when Krishna at my brother’s urging had sought to avoid war by accepting five villages as our share. and saw Shikandi driving up at speed. Bhisma had at no point sought to actively intervene to spare us the many humiliations we had been subjected to. I found myself marveling at the grandsire’s eye and hand speed. For all his moral authority and undisputed stature. Visokan danced the chariot away to one side. Anger lent me strength and speed. as Bhisma turned to keep me in his sights. I glanced to my left. whose tactical sense was finely honed. he was hard-pressed as we attacked him from either flank. our many wrongs – and an old man who had stood by passively and let our enemies do what they wanted to us. The elder Panchala prince stood tall in his chariot. Bhisma’s flagpole fell. Arjuna might revere Bhisma. but I only saw our hurts. Visokan. my bow hummed as I shot volley after volley at the old man. cut in pieces by a sudden volley of arrows. he did not intervene when Yudhishtira was tricked by Sakuni’s loaded dice. when I attempted to give chase. he never interceded on our behalf. and from there onto the racing chariot.

Shikandi and I rode over to Dhristadyumna’s lodge together – and were met by an angry Yudhishtira.BHIMSEN 268 way blocked by sections of the Kalinga army that had hurried up to protect the Kaurava commander. to retreat – I didn’t need criticism from my brother on this of all nights. Abandoning all thought of pursuit. The Panchala prince had moved to within inches of my brother. protected on all sides by massed troops and insulated from all danger.” It was easy enough for him to talk – his position as king of the Pandavas meant that he was always positioned in the middle of our armies. I had narrowly escaped death that day. cold. I was about to voice my thoughts when I caught sight of Shikandi. whom everyone thought to be invincible. we have no hope of victory — and you of all people should have known that. I was the one who was always out in front. . jumping into their midst with sword in hand while Shikandi covered me with his bow. “As long as the grandsire is alive. lifeless – fixed on Yudhishtira in an unblinking stare that sent a sudden chill down my spine. When the conches blew to signal the end of the day’s battle. “You had Bhisma at your mercy today and let him escape.” he said. I vented my anger on the hapless troops. a target for all our enemies. I had forced the grandsire. his eyes – flat. addressing us equally.

we crashed headlong into the Kalinga army that had been deputed to protect Duryodhana. I spun around to see what had attracted his attention and. but neither side had achieved any quantifiable advantage. Iravan was beside me as. was racing in our direction. who was protecting our left flank. I wondered if you were injured. And that was prelude to today. “When you didn’t come for our meeting. The fiery liquor. I saw him send Suka’s sword flying and. was being hard-pressed by a band led by Shakuni’s brothers. to my left. I had nothing to do but admire the youngster’s skill with the sword – at his feet lay the bodies of Gaya.” I took another long swig from the goatskin of sura a disapproving Visokan had procured at my insistence. on the ninth morning. behead this last of Shakuni’s brothers. Ghatotkacha. A messenger had come to me with word that the youngster. bloodied sword cutting ruthlessly through flesh. Valiyachcha. Chamavat and Arjava. in a reverse stroke almost too quick for the eye to follow. By the time Visokan maneuvered the chariot over to the left quadrant of the field. part of a stock Ghatotkachan’s band had brought with them. even as we approached. when I watched another of our children die and missed yet another chance to kill Duryodhana and end this seemingly endless carnage. the renegade tribal who . burnt a furrow down my throat but did nothing to erase the frustrations of the past two days. The first hint I had of trouble was a roar of rage from my right.BHIMSEN 269 Episode 57 “I came to check if you are well. Day eight had for all practical purposes been a stalemate. I concentrated on cutting a path through the opposing forces. The cremation pyres on either side burnt bright with the bodies of countless dead. Seeing that the boy was more than holding his own.” Abhimanyu said as he walked into my lodge. Arjuna’s son by the Naga princess Ulupi. Iravan. had been our sole bright spot on the eighth day. saw that Alambusha. Gavaksha.

I crashed the mace into the damaged chariot wheel. Before Alambusha could recover. these were extremely heavy and made entirely of iron. with a thick stock that tapered seamlessly to an elongated point. Roaring in rage and triumph and holding the bloody head aloft. The boy died as I watched. as the Naga prince staggered under the unexpected assault. an instant later. heading straight for Duryodhana. Unlike the conventional spear with its triangular point and wooden haft. Alambusha’s sword cut deep into Iravan’s neck. bringing it to an abrupt halt. mace held in front to ward off his arrows. I had looked to shatter the hub.BHIMSEN 270 was fighting on the Kaurava side. Before I could do anything to stop him. grabbed him by the hair and with one stroke. in violation of the conventions of warfare. the chariot listed to one side as Duryodhana fought for balance. cut off his head. had jumped onto Iravan’s chariot and attacked him from behind. but Alambusha wilted before my son’s berserk fury. it was Visokan who had once suggested an alternate use. the son of Rishyasringa had thrust his sword deep into Iravan’s side. paralyzed by the spectacle. I had conceived it as the perfect weapon against an elephant. the tip embedded in the ground and the haft smashed the spokes of the moving chariot. I felt its tip pierce the flesh between my ribs. a brisk flurry of swordplay ended with Ghatotkacha slamming into his enemy’s body with his shoulder and tumbling him off the chariot. . but by sheer luck it slipped between the spokes. Ghatokacha had jumped down. Shrugging off the pain. Grabbing up one of the javelins. I vaulted onto the ground and raced towards Duryodhana. one pierced the leather guard on my chest. The two were seemingly well-matched. I tensed for the effort and hurled it as hard as I could at the near wheel of Duryodhana’s chariot. The Kalinga forces. the wood splintered. Ghatotkacha had leapt onto Iravan’s chariot and engaged Alambusha in direct combat. Even so. he marched through the field. Mayan had made for me a set of special javelins. made way before him and I drove through the breach.

BHIMSEN 271 He grabbed his mace one handed and tried to block my swing. I was now unarmed and convention dictated that he could not fire on me. I spun around. and found Bhisma confronting me with arrow poised on drawn bow string. Now that the time had come. more than any of us. he was at my mercy and my mace was raised for the killing blow when a sudden searing pain forced me to drop it. and found him riding hastily off the field of battle on a horse he had apparently commandeered from one of his troops. . That feeling had been reinforced when he single-handedly routed the Kaurava raiding party that had attacked Matsya in an attempt to flush us out of hiding. It was not that he was refusing to meet Bhisma. very near his fingers. I looked for Duryodhana. our presumptive strength was proving to be our biggest weakness. the poisoned darts and other weapons he had taken such pains to acquire and master were proving to be irresistible. When during our long years in exile we anticipated the war to follow. he turned to deal with Shikandi who was driving up on his left. But it was not to kill common foot soldiers that we needed him – and in any event. he had proved to be a one-man scourge among the Kaurava armies. The shock of the blow tore the mace out of his hand. Drona and Kripa in combat – but when he did find himself confronting one of the gurus he tended to pull his punches. meaning to finish what we had started. His first arrow had ripped across the back of my hand. Having effected the rescue. ever since Ghatotkacha had joined us with his little band of tribals. but the fear that I might end up voicing a thought that loomed larger with each passing day: our real problem was Arjuna. I shifted aim and slammed my mace onto the handle of his. responsible for the fearsome carnage in the Kaurava rank and file – the fire arrows. There was no question that my favorite brother was. it was always with the comforting thought that in Arjuna we had our trump card against the master warriors who would be ranged against us. It was not these cumulative frustrations that kept me from the meeting. fighting at less than his best and allowing the senior warriors considerable freedom of movement.

he backed Shikandi down just when it seemed the Panchala was on the verge of stuffing my brother’s ill-judged criticism down his throat. He had Subhadra’s eyes – large.” I told Abhimanyu. he had already earned a reputation as one of the most brilliant warriors of our time. though. Bhisma and Drona had launched a wave of attacks that was rapidly eroding our own numbers. “I’m tired. fringed with the long. who had taken considerable losses in the early days of the fighting. .” “It is about my father. limpid. In battle. we needed a major breakthrough. Krishna had a point when he said we needed to rediscover our unity of purpose – but for that to happen. Abhimanyu smiled. had clashed with a large segment of the Kaurava forces led by Bhagadatta and Shakuni. “I just thought I’d get some rest. had begun over the last two or three days to turn our own tactics against us. In repose he looked absurdly young. Arjuna. with Abhimanyu. Suthasoman and others in support. like a boy playing with his father’s weapons. Krishna had on that occasion narrowly averted a showdown. startled yet again by perspicacity unusual in one so young. We were an increasingly tense lot as a result. Brilliantly though Dhristadyumna was leading us. To blame Arjuna in open meeting was not going to serve any purpose other than to heighten tensions. there was also no way I could discuss all this with a young man who idolized his father. we seemed to have hit an impasse. tempers were fraying. even the balladeers on the Kaurava side were singing his praises. Sarvagan. and the longer this went on the more certain it was that we would lose. that is all.” Abhimanyu said.BHIMSEN 272 His hesitation was beginning to cost us. “Something happened today that is good for our cause. The Kauravas. isn’t it?” I looked at him. and Yudhishtira’s snapping at Shikandi and me the other day had gone from being the exception to being the rule when we met for our strategy sessions. delicate lashes of a young maiden.

my uncle told father. Bhisma will die at my father’s hands. my father and Shikandi will fight together. Krishna would renege on his promise and take up arms. “This evening for the first time. my father will attack Bhisma when he is most vulnerable. Then. but his efforts were defensive. aimed at limiting the damage Bhisma could do rather than directly attacking the grandsire. Shikandi will confront Bhisma and my father will target Dushasana. “Valiyachcha. “Tomorrow. they’ll switch targets.” Krishna had bitterly upbraided Arjuna for neglecting his duty. I saw determination in my father’s eyes as we were discussing strategy.” .” Abhimanyu told me. Arjuna had pleaded with him. it was Bhisma who had come to the rescue just when it seemed the Kaurava commanders would be overwhelmed and killed. he has deputed Dushasana to guard Bhisma at all times. reminding Krishna of his promise that he wouldn’t take up arms in this war. armed only with a horsewhip. at the opportune moment. Angered beyond measure by his friend’s actions. mark my words – tomorrow.BHIMSEN 273 Yet again. Krishna had tossed aside the reins and confronted Bhisma. “One of our spies told us that Duryodhana is worried the grandsire could tire and be overwhelmed. Arjuna fought back. and swore that the next time he backed off when confronted by one of the acharyas. “A horsewhip is not a weapon.

I found myself under attack by a band of the younger Kauravas. I’d been hearing that I was born to destroy the Kauravas. whooping in celebration of what they imagined was imminent triumph. In the midst of the fiercest fighting of the war thus far. the ferocity of the attacks I faced from the first blast of the battle conches made me think the Kauravas had decided the key to their victory lay in my death. The Kaurava brothers. it began to look as if the wolves that howled in the streets of Hastinapura to mark my birth may have been prophetic. and drifted away to a relatively isolated part of the field. charged headlong after me. This tenth day of the war. Arjuna in Bali Visokan was brilliant. . Both sides seemed determined to end the war that day. He manipulated the movements of the chariot to create the impression that I was in trouble.BHIMSEN 274 Episode 58 Since that day so long ago when I first stood outside the gates of Hastinapura. If our plan was to take down Bhisma.

onto the floor of my chariot. Duryodhana’s son Laxman. Before they could adjust to going from hunters to the hunted. one of two cousins who bore the same name as I. unlike Duryodhana and Dushasana. I gloried in what I had to do as I finished off the two wounded Kauravas. I drove back into the thick of battle. who had chosen to lead the Yadava forces against us. Shalya. Both fell. I found myself surrounded: Kripa. no one to come to their rescue. Viravahu and Bhima. As they rushed me. As I readied to confront him. I spun around on the deck of the chariot and hurled one of my iron javelins straight at the onrushing Jalasandha. This was the chance I had been waiting for. Grabbing up my mace. I ducked and swung my mace hard at Senpati’s knee and in a continuation of that move. I had carried with me the memories of serial insults and injuries. his conch blowing out a challenge. even at this distance I could hear the crack as the massive iron spear broke through his ribs and smashed him to the floor of his chariot. and Krishna’s distant cousin Kritavarma. As Visokan abruptly pulled up in the midst of his seeming headlong retreat. to interfere. Senapati. As Visokan maneuvered to find a . lusting for the feel of it cracking against Kaurava skulls. yanked my javelin from Jalasandha’s chest and tossed it. and I luxuriated in the knowledge that seven of Duryodhana’s brothers had fallen to me in the space of mere moments. relatively unskilled in the intricacies of hand to hand combat. crashed it into Sulochana’s rib cage. still dripping Kaurava blood. Killing had through the course of this war become for me a job to be done with clinical efficiency – but for once. One down. They made the mistake of thinking to overwhelm me in close combat. I hopped off the chariot and awaited them. Bhimarata and Sulochana were young and. I felled Ugra. Now they were just three – the kind of odds I liked. a flurry of blows and parries ended with Bhimarata crumpling to the ground with a crushed skull.BHIMSEN 275 Way out on the right side of the field there was no one to notice. in quick succession with well placed arrows. Bhagadatta rode up on his elephant. and into a trap. I thought as the missile crashed through his breastplate. Now was the time. I had spent many sleepless nights dreaming of the day I would have my revenge.

a task to be accomplished in order to achieve a greater goal. As he jumped down from his chariot and hopped into Kritavarma’s. I had heard tales of my young nephew’s prowess from Visokan and others. fired a salvo high into the air.BHIMSEN 276 way out of the trap. bringing his chariot to a halt and opening up a line of retreat. I grabbed up one of my javelins. The sudden blast of a conch from the rear made me glance around. I fired a volley and saw two arrows pierce his unprotected side. blaring out a challenge on his conch. I turned again to confront Bhagadatta who I had identified as the greatest danger. “Please leave the field – I don’t want to have to kill you. . he effortlessly parried the initial attack and. almost playfully and with incredible dexterity. I hurled my javelin at the Pragjoytisha king. but this was the first time I was watching him from close quarters. he swerved the chariot to one side. as he fought to keep his seat on the back of the elephant. for him it seemed to be entertainment. The terms of engagement the two sides had mutually engaged to honor mandated one on one battles between the major warriors – but as the fighting intensified over these last ten days. Jayadratha rode up from behind to cut off my retreat. on its deck stood Abhimanyu. I marvelled as his arrows fell in an almost perfect circle around the old acharya’s chariot. With my life at stake. the guru of my father and uncles!” I smiled to myself at the youngster’s audacity as Visokan drove the chariot headlong at Bhagadatta’s elephant Supratika. As we flashed past the flank of the massive elephant. War for us was duty. Abhimanyu’s first sally was against Kripa. A chariot drawn by six jet black horses and flying the flag of an eagle in flight was racing towards me. an exciting game to indulge his youthful energy in. sir. I had seen brief glimpses of his skill on the field. but there was still enough power in the throw to make the king reel. The chariot’s headlong rush spoilt my aim. “You are too old. Sensing what he was about to do. those rules were being gradually ignored. I saw no reason to abide by rules my enemies were flouting – as Visokan took the chariot away from the line of Bhagadatta’s attack.” Abhimanyu mocked. At the last split second. I cut down Jayadratha’s horses.

Shalya whipped his horses and dashed off in Kritavarma’s wake. picked up a a javelin with his right and before his enemy could straighten with spare bow in hand. I was at best deemed the equal of Duryodhana – the likes of Drona and Balarama even rated him my better. Finding himself outnumbered. there is your father – and now there’s you. I no longer needed to pretend. as time passed. Abhimanyu brought his chariot alongside mine. “Oh well. the affectionate pride in his eyes made me feel ten feet tall. they always spoke of my father as the greatest archer in the world and of you as one of the best with the mace. turned tail in the face of our combined volleys and raced away from the field of battle. Abhimanyu’s words lit up my heart. already hampered by Jayadratha who had sheltered in his chariot. and shrugged. switched his bow to his left hand. The two were the same age but in terms of skill. with the smile that already.” he said. I received little enough from the gurus. Growing up with my brothers and cousins. there was no comparison. I never realized that with the bow you are as good as my father! Oof! Alone against six great warriors – who do we have in our ranks that is your equal?!” I had always been impervious to praise. to what others thought of my skill. Together we turned on Shalya and Kritavarma. this boy of sixteen had already surpassed his father. “Valiyachcha. had the power to light up my heart. Even with the mace. Abhimanyu cut Lakshman’s bow in half and with bewildering speed. I realized that in dexterity and speed. in the short time of knowing him. The latter.” I said. I had seen Arjuna fight and observed him at practice. hurled it with unerring aim at Lakshman’s chest.BHIMSEN 277 As the mahout urged the elephant off the field to protect the injured Bhagadatta. watching Abhimanyu at close quarters. . Abhimanyu shook his head and smiled. “can I tell you something? “When uncle Krishna and uncle Balarama told me of my father and uncles. I fought back the desire to jump down from my chariot and hug him to me. I turned to battle the others and saw that Abhimanyu was already engaged in battle with Duryodhana’s son. I finally had a moment to catch my breath. At first I pretended indifference.

“My father!” Abhimanyu exclaimed. Visokan used his whip mercilessly as we raced along in the youngster’s wake. As my chariot came to a halt. its ribbons cut. Visokan weaved through the crowd in the wake of Abhimanyu’s chariot. but Krishna was clearly the real master. Bhisma’s charioteer was forced to pull up to avoid a headlong collision. in that split second when the grandsire was immobile. the very best go beyond that and. As the grandsire. Arjuna’s arrow flew true and took Bhisma in the center of his unprotected chest. at the head of the crowd. The wound was fatal. his chariot was charging ahead in the direction of the noise. dangled uselessly at his waist. blood flowed freely from a dozen wounds. I saw Bhisma recoil as his bowstring was cut. The din rose in volume as we neared that part of the field where a large crowd had gathered. The sounds were coming from way off to the left of the field.BHIMSEN 278 A sudden blare of trumpets and conches and the frantic thump of war drums jolted us out of this quiet interlude in the midst of the madness. we could see through a cloud of dust the rapid movements of war chariots. Krishna checked his horses in full flight. Bhisma’s flagpole had been cut to pieces. . in a chariot that struggled to keep Arjuna in frontal view. Arrows pierced him everywhere. I spotted Shikandi and Dushasna in their chariots — like dozens of others around them. with their ability to bend a team of high spirited horses to their will. in the center. Arjuna cut his bow in two with a crescent-headed arrow. I had always admired Visokan’s ability with the reins. his favorite Gandiva in hand. an instant later. create opportunities. his movements slowed by age and injuries. triumphant flourish of conches and trumpets from our ranks. Off to the side. I saw Arjuna standing tall on the deck of his chariot with the signature white horses. Facing him. Good charioteers are instantly responsive to the needs of their masters. struggled to fix another. His chest guard. Bhisma collapsed to the floor of his chariot to the accompaniment of a loud. Showing skills that seemed scarcely human. was Bhisma. spun them around and whipped them back into a dead gallop on a course that cut in front of the enemy. they appeared to have suspended their own battle to watch the duel of two of the most celebrated warriors of our time.

What was there to mourn? At my signal. palm outward. in a sign of benediction. Bhisma still breathed.BHIMSEN 279 The commander in chief had fallen. Grievously wounded though he clearly was. but I felt no desire to join them. As my brother stood before him with bowed head and folded hands. In the distance I saw Yudhishtira’s chariot. and drove away from the field. and gently laid him on the ground. I saw him lift an arm. The chariots of the Kaurava generals were racing towards the spot. marked with the white umbrella of royalty. And now we had achieved what we set out to do — my brother had shrugged off the doubts that tortured him and dealt a crippling blow to the Kaurava cause. He emerged with the grandsire cradled in his arms. Visokan turned the chariot around. coming in our direction. . The leaders on both sides were gathering to mourn the passing of the patriarch. vaulted out of his chariot and jumped into Bhisma’s. from the Kaurava ranks came the descending notes of a trumpet signalling the cessation of combat. For ten days we had plotted and strategized to bring about his death. Arjuna flung his bow aside.

The army that confronted us that dawn was arranged in a defensive quarter moon formation but once battle was fully joined. had promised Duryodhana he would end the war that day by killing or capturing Yudhishtira. its fellows joined in the demoniac chorus. looking for some sign of where it had happened. to the enemy. The thought echoed in my head as I walked on through the pitch black night. Abhimanyu is dead. had breathed his last. Bhisma was still clinging to life.BHIMSEN 280 Episode 59 A jackal howled in triumph as it found some overlooked scrap of human flesh. still fresh after a day of performing prodigies on the battle field. the Kauravas had laid him out in state in one corner of the battlefield. a fresh impetus. Drona had taken over command of the Kaurava army. it swiftly rearranged itself in the concentric circles of the Chakravyuh. Engrossed in the immediacy of combat. his presence in the field had given a fillip. . Drona. so dear to me. Never more would I hear that call I had grown to love: Valiyachcha… Over the course of the saddest day of my life. but I still felt the urge to visit the scene. to see for myself where that boy. The 13th day of the war was very nearly fatal for us. surrounded by an honor guard. Never again would he walk into my lodge late in the evening. that legend said was impenetrable. Karna had given up his sulks and joined the Kaurava ranks. I hadn’t realized the change in Kaurava tactics. Abhimanyu is dead. we had pieced together details of how he had been killed. with Drona and Karna at its center. while vultures wheeled and circled overhead. our spies warned us.

it is difficult to get a sense of what is happening across the field – there is just you and the next person to kill. Just then. Nakula. get a sizeable troop together and launch a counter-offensive. I hurried inside. Even so. we waited in Yudhishtira’s lodge as a succession of spies passed through with details of what had happened. or to be killed by. the loss of the nephew he had brought up as his own son appeared to have hit him hard. and when it looked like we might be overwhelmed. staring fixedly into the fire and seemingly oblivious of the tears that streamed down his face. Through the rest of that awful day. . but I had no time to worry about that. When you are in the thick of battle. a hand on my stricken brother’s shoulder. I signalled Visokan to drive off the field so I could get the attendants to clean and bind my wound. The Kaurava charge seemed to lessen in intensity. Drupada and others were also riding up to help contain the Kaurava charge. Sahadeva. I thought to seize this opportunity. Arjuna was slumped in a corner. I got the feeling that something had happened to change the dynamic. A grimfaced Sahadeva sat beside him. I persuaded Yudhishtira to withdraw from the field. “Abhimanyu is dead!” Krishna’s face was ashen. The battle raged with an intensity I had never seen before. Rather than fight on. There was no sign of Arjuna. for all the philosophies he had spouted about life and death being an illusion. a stray arrow pierced deep into my right forearm.BHIMSEN 281 it was when a messenger came up to warn me that our center was in danger of buckling that I rushed over in support. I saw no sign of their main warriors in our immediate vicinity – I wondered if they were facing their own problems elsewhere on the field. “Something bad must have happened. pointing his whip at the chariots drawn up in front of Yudhishtira’s lodge.” Visokan said as we drove into camp. The Kauravas in their circular formation pressed us hard.

He sealed the breach before Drupada and I could break through. Abhimanyu would lead the charge to smash through the concentric rings that comprised the formation. “It was Jayadratha who blocked us.” I reminded Yudhishtira. This was perhaps not the best time to upbraid my brother. we told him we would send messengers to Arjuna to warn of the danger and bring him to the front line. Abhimanyu managed to smash through the outer wall of the Kaurava formation. Abhimanyu. The plan was for Drupada and Satyaki to follow in his wake. Drona switched formations and launched his own attack. Abhimanyu is dead and now Uttara is a widow – who among us has the courage to tell her that her husband of four months is dead?” . “We told him to wait. even my own sons.BHIMSEN 282 Drona had waited until Arjuna was busy coping with a challenge by Bhagadatta. but you ordered us to let him go. but I didn’t care – I had just lost a boy I cared for more deeply than anyone else. we had heard about this group of mercenaries who had been formed with the sole intention of harassing and containing Arjuna. he said if we waited it would be too late. tears streaming down his face. backed by a large force of Samsaptakas. “His crime merited death. You said we could not be responsible for making our cousin Dusshala a widow! Thanks to your generosity. backed by the rest of our cavalry.” Satyaki said. who was at point in our own formation. and then he escaped into the melee. realized what was happening and decided the best counter was to break the Chakravyuh and take the attack to Drona himself. he would go in there alone…” It takes considerable skill to break the Chakravyuh — I think Arjuna was the only one of us who had perfected that skill. his voice hoarse with grief. he said if we didn’t back him.” Satyaki said. Once inside the enemy formation.” Jayadratha! “The man you pardoned. crippled his own horses and overturned his chariot. He mocked us for being cowards. Once Arjuna was fully occupied in dealing with the challenge. From our spies. “The boy wouldn’t listen. and attack Drona and Karna directly. “Abhimanyu had penetrated inside and I was following immediately behind when the Sindhu king drove into the breach.

if he heard my recriminations. What was there to say? Abhimanyu was dead. the boy had already done enough to overshadow the reputations of the great warriors on either side – the deeds of Bhisma. But on this day. Had I only known… . Shalya and his brother Rukmaratha had tried to stop his progress. trapped in the midst of the massed Kaurava forces. without a shadow of fear or doubt. Yet it never occurred to me to wonder why – instead. Dushasana engaged him and. “There is no celebration in the Kaurava camp. the Kauravas didn’t have the space to push their own attack through. It must have been Abhimanyu’s audacious assault that blunted the edge of the Kaurava attack – preoccupied with trying to stop the boy from winning the war single-handed. Each time a spy came to us with some fresh narrative. Abhimanyu then did what no one believed was possible – alone. overwhelmed by the supreme skill of the youngster. even Arjuna himself had paled in comparison. they are singing…” For once. we grieved anew – but at no point did sorrow threaten to completely overwhelm me as at this moment. fell fainting on the deck of his chariot.BHIMSEN 283 My brother kept his eyes fixed on the floor. he excelled himself. the balladeers didn’t exaggerate – even the gods would have wanted to watch this boy. I had driven off the field to rest. Abhimanyu killed Rukmaratha and forced Shalya to retreat. I had realized that the Kauravas had been blunted. he would have fought with joy. I knew that even overwhelmed as he was. he gave no sign. with the exuberance that was so uniquely his. Over the past 12 days. Having seen him in action. was forced to scurry back into the safety of the center. I had sensed that diminished intensity. wounded in combat. surrounded on all sides by hostile troops. Karna drove out to check him and. I thought. Drona. he didn’t say a word. The very gods came down to watch. he smashed through the supposedly impregnable formation and penetrated to its heart. “Even their own balladeers are praising Abhimanyu.” one of our spies reported.

Abhimanyu held his own. Even so. Karna – vaunted warriors all – surrounded him. I wandered out into the now deserted battle field. combined in a flanking attack to smash his chariot. Abhimanyu’s voice. Abhimanyu fought on with his sword until he was disarmed. Dushasana and Duryodhana. no chariot wheel with which he had fought his last fight. Valiyachcha. Shalya. . calling out to me. signalled to Karna to attack from the rear. Abhimanyu’s smile. to check… had Satyaki or one of the others thought to send messengers… Unable to contain his brilliance. until an increasingly desperate Drona. Nothing. seeing his carefully planned strategy reduced to ruin. in the timbre of which man and boy met so nicely. Ashwatthama. When the boy finally collapsed under the weight of his injuries. except the memories that pierced my heart. he picked up the wheel of the shattered chariot and fought on while the Kauravas fired at him from all sides. Duryodhana. no shattered arms. A revived Dushasana and his son came up in support. Drona. shining with pride at my skill.BHIMSEN 284 had I thought to ask. While Drona and Ashwatthama drew Abhimanyu’s fire. seeking some sign of where it had all happened. the Kauravas were forced to try and overwhelm Abhimanyu through sheer weight of numbers. and crushed his head in with a mace. Karna slipped behind him and cut down his bow. Dushasana’s son had slipped in behind him. Kripa. bleeding from a thousand cuts. Abhimanyu’s eyes on me. Unable to sit still under the burden of grief. mounted on elephants. The chandalas had done their job well – there was nothing: no smashed chariot.

BHIMSEN 285 Had he. and only after that will he perform Abhimanyu’s last rites. “How could he have been so criminally stupid?” Dhristadyumna said.” Dhristadyumna said. Arjuna swore that he would kill Jayadratha before dusk. he was sitting on the step. I wondered. after a long pause.” “Where is Krishna? Why didn’t he stop Arjuna from making such an impossible vow?” Dhristadyumna snorted with impatience.” “What?! Why?” .” “Who?!” “Your brother. he said. “Vows are cheap – there are far too many of them already.” I reminded him.” Dhristadyumna’s voice interrupted my thoughts as I walked past the door of his lodge. surround him on all sides with his best warriors and keep him safe through a day’s fighting – and we will use our best warrior to his own stupidity. “Challenge Karna to a duel tomorrow – he will not refuse a direct challenge. And besides. “Drona is no fool. in those final moments called for help? Had he longed for his father? He had once come to my aid unasked – did he. “Drona is my problem and I’ll deal with him – but if we are to win this war then one of us needs to take out Karna before he can do too much damage. Failing that. Krishna—he is busy. He is consulting priests and astrologers. took a long swig of sura and passed the goatskin to me. and the only one who can is you. as he fell before those cowards. he will immolate himself on the funeral pyre of his son. drawing aimless patterns in the dust with the tip of his spear. “Oh.” “Arjuna has vowed to kill Karna. wonder why I wasn’t at his side when he most needed help? “I was looking for you. He will put Jayadratha at the center of his army. who else?! In full hearing of our soldiers. His eyes were bloodshot with alcohol and with grief. where does he have the time? He is preoccupied with other things – he has vowed that he will kill Jayadratha by dusk tomorrow.

he mingled with my men. treated me like an equal. your brother for whom we are shedding our blood. I had never looked for him after the day’s battle to utter a word of praise. How many lessons did I still have to learn? In how many more ways would Abhimanyu continue to prove that he was better than all of us combined? “And now he is dead! Abhimanyu is dead! They surrounded him like jackals and brought him down – all those great warriors. What does that king. “Abhimanyu alone. of thanks. he praised my skills. but not to be treated as one of you. not Dhristadyumna or Krishna or any of the great kings who have come to fight for you. “Abhimanyu is dead. I had never thought to seek out my own son.” he said. call us? Rakshasas?! We are fit only to kill for you. “No one – not your brothers. feeling the truth in my eldest son’s words scour me like a whip. we are just tribals. What a time to consult omens!” I walked away. “For all of you. like a brother. As I neared the river. he told me he had never seen a greater fighter and how proud he was that I was his brother…” I had never known any of this. He had once rescued me from dire peril. I saw etched against the night sky the silhouette of a single chariot drawn up on the bank. even then. too disturbed in mind and restless in body to seek the comfort of my bed.” Ghatotkacha said as I walked up. from that first day we met in your lodge.BHIMSEN 286 “How would I know? He didn’t take me into his confidence – he summoned the priests and our astrologers. he asked about my comfort. to find out how he was doing. have ever treated me and my men like human beings. those acharyas. In the 11 days since he had come to join us. behaving in a fashion we tribals would scorn…” . He sought me out each day. jumping down from his perch and standing there. not your other sons. Someone was perched on its shaft. he fought for control while I stood there. Abhimanyu alone…” His voice broke. and has been meeting with them in Arjuna’s lodge. staring off into space. staring out across the river.

BHIMSEN 287 In the darkness. us tribals. for Abhimanyu. it is for him. I will write the story of my brother in the blood of the cowards who brought him down!” . his sword flashed fire – a world of pain and anger powered his arm as the sword bit deep into the shaft of the chariot. “My spy in the Kaurava camp tells me that Drona is planning to fight at night – the fool! That is just what we like.” His laugh rang out. Rakshasas!” The way he spat out that last word was an insult to us. “Night is our time – they will not see us come. they will not see their death till it is too late. He looked down at his weapon as if he had never seen it before. a sound more blood-curdling than the howls of the jackals that occasionally pierced the stillness of the night. “From now on when I kill.

” Not for the first time. People always speak of my strength but in my own mind. or for those dire situations when they find themselves in trouble. king of the gods. didn’t have some secrets up his sleeve as well. I knew. fired from some sort of . I marveled internally at his ability to keep abreast of all that was going on. by Shiva. Arjuna had several special arrows that I knew of. I had the iron javelins made to my specifications. and yet here was my charioteer discreetly hinting that he knew what was in the wind. “The story is it was actually created for him by a master engineer in Anga. by Agni and Vaayu and other gods – stories that we had carefully spread through our own balladeers and spies as part of the tactic of demoralizing the enemy. There was no one in the vicinity when Dhristadyumna had asked me to challenge Karna. “What happened to my usual armor. “Some say it was gifted to him by Indra. it was speed that was my greatest asset — and going to war in a bulky metal breastplate and arm guards was not conducive to the kind of quick movement that gave me my edge. They also say Arjuna had weapons gifted by Indra.BHIMSEN 288 Episode 60 I returned to my lodge after offering prayers at the yagna shala and found Visokan waiting for me with the kind of metal body armor I hate to wear. but from what I hear I think it is a javelin. “I haven’t been able to get much detail yet.” Visokan told me. It would have been surprising if Karna. who had been preparing for this war for a long time. I shrugged. perfectly possible that Karna had some kind of special weapon — the best warriors always save such for special enemies. the one of cowhide?” “Have you heard anything of Karna’s secret weapon?” Visokan asked seemingly at a tangent. It was.

” Possibly. I thought. I strapped on my favorite cowhide breastplate and arm guards and went out to supervise how my weapons were arranged on the deck of the chariot. . creating a tight defensive shield around the target. as I turned to confront him. with each petal of the lotus formation led by a master warrior and comprising all three wings of the army. “Very effective. “I heard you are going to challenge Karna to battle…” Ignoring his circuitous hints. and the venom would do the rest. Jayadratha had been secreted in the center of the formation. two crescent-headed arrows pierced my breastplate. a version of Arjuna’s Pasupathasthra — which. In any case it was all speculation. An arrow flecked with peacock feathers embedded itself deep in my flagpole as a sign of his challenge. Those who speak of it call it the Shakti. Just below the detachable tip. heading towards where Arjuna was battling mightily to break through. In actual fact. Dhristadyumna’s guess proved correct: Drona arrayed the Kauravas in the ultra-defensive Kamalavyuh. we had got the balladeers to sing. and I didn’t see much sense in getting worked up about it. was gifted to him by Shiva himself. In the event I didn’t have to challenge Karna — it was he who found me as I drove diagonally across the field.BHIMSEN 289 mechanical contraption anchored in his chariot. but you can only prepare so many of these.” Visokan said. so you need to fill it afresh each time – and you can’t go around with a basket of snakes in your chariot to draw venom from!” Karna’s weapon was likely a spear. “The venom loses its potency within hours. “I was just thinking that maybe he will have to use that weapon today. The advantage was that no matter which point Arjuna attacked. The arrowhead was fashioned in such a way as to break off inside the body — you couldn’t pull it out. the wood was carved in the shape of a hollow bulge into which snake venom was filled before the head was screwed back on. the bud. the other petals would instantly close.” Arjuna once explained while showing off the weapons he had acquired on his travels. a larger weapon built on the same lines. Mayan had fashioned for my brother a special arrow with a diamond tip capable of penetrating any armor.

And importantly. I noticed the first signs that he was tiring. “Coward. he kept trying to close the distance. which I had cut in two. Visokan did the exact opposite — he drove diagonally away. I picked up the arrow I had been saving — a long. but their heft gave them additional range and power the conventional arrows Karna was shooting at me did not have. had come. Thrice in succession. Visokan danced our chariot out of the way. Visokan knew my strengths as well as I did.” Karna’s voice cut across the din. and pressed my attack harder. he backed up the horses and drove away at a diagonal. From this greater distance. these were much harder to draw and release. putting even greater distance between us. My time. but I had one thing going for me: power. My arrows thudded repeatedly into his breastplate and onto the wheels of his chariot. “Stand and fight!” An instant later he was staring down at his bow. I had a stock of specially prepared arrows — longer and stronger than the conventional ones. Realizing the danger. I wanted to tire Karna out before I closed with him. I cut his bow in half. I realized. I shrugged them off and. He needed no prompting. I was poised to send the arrow straight at Karna’s throat. swiftly. Karna fired a volley at me. gave the word: “Now!” I expected Visokan to spring the horses forward at speed to reduce the distance. As he bent to pick up a fourth. he reeled. as he bent to replenish his quiver. maintaining the distance and constantly maneuvering so I had a clear view of my target. with effortless skill. putting distance between us. I did not rate as an archer on the same scale as Arjuna and Karna. his armor was strong. A lucky shot took him dead center in the chest.BHIMSEN 290 To the acharyas. and with greater force. . To my surprise. extra thick one fitted with a crescent-shaped head and flecked with pigeon feathers — and carefully fitted it to the string. but the repeated impact of the arrows created an additional physical hardship for him. and grabbed hastily at his flagpole for support. than Karna. the power of my arms and shoulders gave me the edge — I could shoot arrows further.

Get out of my sight before I change my mind. drove his chariot close to mine and poked me in the chest with the tip of his bow.” Visokan’s words came to me as if from a great distance. “Karna is your mother’s eldest son. It was when . and I was furious. but my senses refused to take any of it in.” he said. “It was when I was coming from Kasi to join you.” he said. I saw your mother by the river bank and went towards her. “Fat fool!” he sneered. we made camp on the banks of the Ganga. who seemed to have gotten a second wind. but collapsed instead to the deck of the chariot. I willed myself to bend and pick up my bow again.” With indescribable contempt. “I never meant to eavesdrop. finding a quiet corner. “It was early morning and I was heading to the river for a bath. I pulled myself back onto to my feet — and recoiled as Karna. our force was travelling in slow stages and at one point. “Since Queen Balandhara and your son Sarvadhan were with us.” Words were always Karna’s sharpest weapons.” Visokan said. “You cannot kill him — it would be a huge sin. Visokan drove away to the edge of the field and. “You are only fit to wrestle in the mud with people like you — don’t ever make the mistake of thinking you are an archer. stopped the chariot. “He is your brother!” The bow fell from my suddenly nerveless fingers. my limbs felt paralyzed. Around me the battle surged. he flicked me in the face with the disengaged string of his bow and drove away without a backward glance. reeling under a shock far harder to absorb than the worst Karna had thrown at me. meaning to pay my respects. He appeared to have forgotten that he had been just an instant away from death — or perhaps he hadn’t realized the extent of the danger he was in.BHIMSEN 291 The moment was lost. and you are not him. “I promised your mother I would kill only one of her sons.

knowing that the three of us in alliance could have annihilated them in an instant? The fatal game of dice that had led to this disastrous war — would it have happened? Karna. a world of hurt.” Visokan told me. And the Swayamvar? There was no doubt in my mind. Visokan heard my mother say. Queen — I wish I could call you mother but I just cannot think of you that way — whatever happens. I will do this — I will only kill one of your sons. never once giving me the protection of your name. and falling into Sakuni’s trap as Yudhishtira had done. you will have five sons. as I recalled the events of that day. it would have been Karna who won her hand… . would our cousins ever have dared treat us the way they did? Would they have dared deny us our due.BHIMSEN 292 I got closer that I saw the man who was seated. I will not give up those who were my friends when your sons taunted me as an outcast and you stood silently by. their son. ‘I was brought up by a charioteer and his wife.’ Karna had told my mother. If only my mother had spoken out. in padmasan. before Draupadi contemptuously rejected him as a candidate for her hand. ‘But for you. if only she had told us the truth. and always will be. my child — what else could I do?’. not Yudhishtira. every stratagem Duryodhana had launched against us had been with the knowledge of Karna’s backing — if Karna. Arjuna and I stood together. before her. Whatever happens. and there was a wealth of bitterness in his laugh. Karna the eldest Pandava — rightful heir to the throne of Hastinapura?! How vastly different things could have been… Every trick.’ My mind whirled with the possibilities. “Karna laughed. and I always was. that Karna would have hit the target — I still recalled vividly the skill with which he had strung the bow. and by no stretch of the imagination did I see him accepting. ‘I was unmarried. ‘I will not now give up the identity I have lived under all these years. would as the eldest have received the challenge.

ahead of me I saw Drona. “It is not over yet. The rank and file threw their swords and bows and arrows up in the air. A massive roar went up from the Kaurava ranks. Duryodhana and Karna join the cheering throngs. I glanced over my shoulder at Arjuna. the eclipse…” Realization hit me like a jolt — so that was why Krishna had spent the night closeted with the astrologers. I killed mindlessly. I grabbed my mace and vaulted out of the chariot. Krishna bringing the chariot to a . Sakuni.” he said as I vaulted into the chariot. Ahead of us. Krishna had let the reins drop. my mace mechanically rising and falling. “Look up — it is the surya grahan. and the end of hostilities. totally insulated from Arjuna’s revenge. Somewhere in their midst would be Jayadratha. “Dusk is approaching… Arjuna will need help…” He raced the chariot across the field and through the massed Kaurava forces.BHIMSEN 293 “Not now!” Visokan said. The sky went dark. any minute now the bugle would blow to signal dusk. crushing skulls as I fought to clear a path for my brother. head hanging in despair. on the deck of the chariot I saw Arjuna. And yet. Karna — the eldest Pandava. breaking limbs. “Get in!” Visokan’s voice in my ear startled me out of my stupor. Arjuna would die on Abhimanyu’s funeral pyre – and with that. slowly unbuckle his quiver and throw it down. Dushasana and Drona. jolting me out of my reverie. I could make out the chariots of Karna. the swords attached to the hubs of my chariot cutting brutally through flesh as we dashed headlong towards Arjuna. Duryodhana. buffered by a massed array of archers and swordsmen. My brother and my king… Ranging ahead of Arjuna’s chariot. I thought. our hopes of winning the war would go up in flames. needing the bloody immediacy of hand to hand combat to overcome the demons of the mind. brutally. My brother would lose — there was no way we could bridge the distance in time. it was all going to be too late — the sky was darkening around us.

Arjuna’s conch. She would. The white horses of my brother’s chariot passed me in a blur. sat my mother. Krishna manipulated the team with extraordinary skill as he cut right across the field. the light glinting off the diamond tip of his arrow. a high note dropping off in a diminuendo to signal the cessation of hostilities. I stood looking out across the river into the darkness beyond. I knew. what she was thinking. staying close to Arjuna’s flank. Krishna’s Panchajanya joined in. I grabbed up my bow and quiver. The trumpets of the heralds blared out. and I didn’t need anyone to tell me it had originated in Krishna’s fertile brain. Maybe she was talking to Draupadi. towards the celebrating generals who were crowding around the triumphant Jayadratha. smashed deep into Jayadratha’s throat.BHIMSEN 294 halt… Arjuna’s seeming despair… it was all part of a plan. The sky cleared. even as I straightened. Arjuna stood tall on the deck of his chariot. smashing through the celebrating Kaurava hordes. Dusk fell. in one of the lodges reserved for the womenfolk. or to Balandhara who she had invited to stay with her. Visokan accelerated. Krishna was unimaginably quicker. tranquil even in the face of the news of death and devastation ferried over by our messengers. Somewhere out there. Or maybe she was with Uttara. I heard the triumphant notes of Devadutt. consoling the . Just ahead of me and to my right. with unerring aim. I wondered what she was doing. As the flames of Abhimanyu’s pyre burnt bright against the sky. The twanggg of his release sounded above the din of the as-yet unsuspecting Kauravas. an instant later. Visokan yelled “Now!” I fought to balance myself as the chariot jumped ahead. But quick though Visokan was. be calm. I trained my bow on the Kaurava generals — it would be cruel irony if Arjuna managed to fulfill his vow only to be cut down by the others. I watched the flight of the arrow as it shot across space and.

even before her marriage. had manged to produce three children. Who knew how many more secrets lay buried in her heart? . My mother — who. married when young to an impotent man. My mother — who.BHIMSEN 295 young princess even as the flames consumed her husband’s body on the other side of the river. had managed to have a son she had told no one about.

deadly assault paled in comparison with what Ghatotkacha and his four companions were doing. The Kaurava commander was under increasing pressure from Duryodhana who. Around them were ranged his small but highly effective band. one of them would toss a ball of pitch high in the air. but I really had very little to do. ululating cry that pierced the ear and paralyzed the mind. It was Drona’s decision to continue the battle beyond dusk. there was enough indication that Drona had blundered badly. of not attacking flat out against his favorite disciples. Close on its heels came the unmistakable sound of Ghatotkacha marking another kill – a shrill. My son hadn’t exaggerated: he owned the night and already. an hour or so into the fighting. our spies told us. . A sudden. but there was barely time to replenish our quivers and tend to our wounds before the blare of trumpets summoned us back onto the field. His chariot was in the lead. But even this silent. Ghatotkacha was fighting in formation. The men slipped in and out of the shadows at will. flanked by two others on either side. they went to work. dealing death with sword and bow and spear and melting away before the enemy could react to their presence. Every so often. blinded Kaurava forces. had accused the acharya of pulling his punches. brutally massacring the stunned. fighting on foot the way they liked to. I had gone up in support. For once. The heralds had signaled a cessation of hostilities when Jayadratha fell.BHIMSEN 296 Episode 61 The mist rolling in off the river added a layer to the darkness of the night. blinding ball of flame exploded in the air a little ahead of me. another hit it with a flaming arrow and as the pitch exploded in flames.

Visokan brought my chariot up close beside my brother’s. he flicked me in the face with his whip and told me to go tell our mother that he had sent her another gift. Satyaki and Nakula had already come up in support. and came upon Sahadeva staggering around in the dark. and seemed on the verge of collapse. His armor had been shattered. It was not that my brother was lacking in courage. as I slipped into a defensive position in front and covered my brother. With the immediate danger averted. Though not as skilled as Arjuna and I. but it seemed to me that we were vulnerable to a flat out assault from any one point. Visokan drove headlong towards that part of the field where my brother was stationed. Drona. I ranged the field looking to inflict damage where I could. Drona and Kritavarma drove up to join Ashwathama. But it would serve no purpose for him to be felled by a stray arrow. A messenger arrived from Krishna to put me on guard. We arrived just as Ashwathama launched a ferocious assault on Yudhishtira’s position. he was in fact a better warrior than either Nakula or Sahadeva. We surrounded Yudhishtira on all sides in a defensive formation. “Karna!” Sahadeva told me. it was difficult to assess the situation tactically and deploy counter measures. Krishna warned. might use the cover of night to try to kill or capture Yudhishtira. Fighting in the dark of the night was.BHIMSEN 297 It was a scene straight out of hell: the screams of the dying mingled with the panic-stricken yells of their fellows who found fire raining down on them from above. “He destroyed my chariot. I pointed out. And then he drove off! . or to be captured. amidst the din of combat I argued for discretion. cut my sword to pieces… he humiliated me. nightmarish. and finally persuaded Yudhishtira to leave the field. once I had lifted him onto the deck of my chariot and settled him down. broke my bows. Without a clear view of the field. despite the massive torches both sides had deployed. he had me completely at his mercy – and when I was disarmed and defenseless. especially when fighting from a chariot. he was bleeding from multiple wounds.

even more so at night – if anyone can stop Karna. drove up to Duryodhana’s chariot and threw it at him! He is fearless. Visokan changed to a single-horse chariot. and drove back onto the battlefield to see what was going on. hadn’t you heard? But it is your son who is winning us this war. a messenger reported. that boy…” Visokan walked in just then – and it seemed that he.BHIMSEN 298 “What did he mean?” “Who knows!” I pretended disinterest as Visokan drove back at speed towards our camp. too. couldn’t stop talking of Ghatotkacha’s deeds this night.” Visokan said. it is him. Drona had sent his son. Duryodhana sent the rakshasa Alayudha at the head of a large force to attack Ghatotkacha – your son and his men slaughtered them all. I decided to return to my lodge – it was nearing midnight. “Tonight is good for us. supported by a force of about one thousand troops. oof! They slip through the shadows. The way they fight. the fighting wouldn’t last much longer before the trumpets called a halt and before . “Send a messenger to him – let him go in support of Dhristadyumna. and the only sign of their presence is the bodies they leave behind. “It was something to see! Ghatotkacha had his men with him – some two hundred of them. I think. badly I think – I saw him in headlong retreat.” Yudhishtira said.” We pulled up outside Yudhishtira’s lodge. Ghatotkacha cut off Alayudha’s head and in the dark. Ashwathama has been wounded. Karna had joined in. and I carried Sahadeva inside. the war will be over tonight. sat awaiting the reports of our messengers and spies. “If this goes on for much longer. I called for some Sura and. against Ghatotkacha. “Satyaki killed Somadatta. “Never mind that – we have to get your wounds tended.” Messengers came in with fresh reports. “Where is Ghatotkacha?” Krishna asked. Ghatotkacha is a peerless warrior. Krishna walked in just then with Arjuna. with Yudhishtira for company. The Kaurava troops were slaughtered.” Visokan drove off to deliver the message. Out on the eastern side of the field Drona and Dhristadyumna were locked in fierce combat.

BHIMSEN 299 you knew it. We should be celebrating. I stretched out on the bed. A blaze of light caught my attention. And until the leaders fell. I thought as I walked. Moments later. Now Ghatotkacha. I heard the clatter of hooves.” I ran towards Yudhishtira’s lodge. the killing would go on… I sat on the little stoop outside my lodge. the fools? Have them strike up the music!” . “First Abhimanyu. But the major warriors remained undefeated – Duryodhana.” he said. silence – punctured a few moments later by the trilling call of the trumpets crying truce for the day. An enormous fireball lit the night sky. Dhristadyumna and I on our side. triumphant. it would be dawn and the killing would begin all over again. I still remember the respectful boy who came to our help at Gandhamadhana… the eldest of our sons… our heir… “ Nakula and Sahadeva came up to hug me. And then. “Karna almost died today. where the lights still burnt bright. Where are the balladeers – why are they silent. Ghatotkacha is dead. Already both sides had taken grievous losses – the Kauravas far more than us. Outside. taking occasional sips of the goatskin of sura I had provided myself with. against Arjuna and now that too is gone. “He was forced to use the Shakti to save himself. their faces. Krishna rushed in. For how much longer could this war go on. one chance. “What is this?! Why the long faces? Karna had one weapon. trying to ease the aches and pains of a long day. Visokan came running into the room. Drona. like Yudhishtira’s. etched in grief.” he said. My brother rushed up and hugged me tight. “I am overwhelmed with grief. I jumped up and looked out in the direction of the field. Karna and Ashwathama on the Kaurava side. suddenly. I slumped to the floor in a corner of the room. over the din of battle I heard the voice of my son — fierce. Arjuna.

“He may be Bhima’s son but Ghatotkacha is a tribal. to find and kill him and his men — it was only because of this war that I spared him. the first woman I had ever loved… Loved?! A sense of shame engulfed me. a rakshasa. I walked towards where I had seen that last fireball. it followed that when faced with the prospect of his death. knowing he and his men were out there somewhere – a renegade band of tribals who come in out of the forests and raid us at will. I slipped out without a word. piling the bodies of the dead onto their ox-wagons. The chandalas were hard at work. triumphant sound. In all these years it had never . and finally I found him.BHIMSEN 300 Did Krishna see me in the shadows? I suppose not. but Krishna’s voice followed me. I knew no one could stand up to Ghatotkacha. My son – born to the woman who one magical evening in the forest had stilled my doubts. but the words were low pitched. indistinct. My first born – sent to die so my brother could live. “Do you take me for a fool? It was not for nothing that I sent that message asking him to attack Karna.” I heard Yudhishtira say something. I had enjoyed my time with her. Karna would be forced to use his Shakti. adding fuel to the anger I felt burning deep inside of me. Which of us kings could rule in peace. Hidimbi — the first woman I had ever had. but when my brother decided it was time to move on and my mother said I had to leave her behind. And then Krishna laughed – a harsh. cruel. and against whom all our war craft is useless? Balarama and I had long had it in mind to go after him. I had turned my back on her and walked away without a backward glance. anger I did not know how to vent and on whom. who had proved to me that I was not impotent like my father. Now Arjuna is safe – what is the life of a tribal compared to that?!” I fought down the surging anger that threatened to overwhelm me and headed in the direction of the field.

this child born to a woman I had loved and left. I would not leave my son for the jackals and vultures to prey on. a tribal. a father looking down at the slain body of his son. Ghatotkacha was a Nishada. The rules that governed us prohibited cremation for such as him – rakshasas were just so much fodder for the scavenging beasts that roamed the battlefield.BHIMSEN 301 occurred to me. Lifting Ghatotkacha’s lifeless body in my arms. A sudden revulsion swept over me – revulsion for a war that would win us a kingdom in return for the lives of our young. I strode through the blood-soaked field and headed for the cremation ghat. He would get a proper funeral. Around us. stood the few dozen members of his tribe that had survived this night. Vultures wheeled high overhead. faces streaked with tears. knowing that he did not even merit a proper funeral. as I stood beside Arjuna earlier that evening. his chest split open by an enormous iron javelin the likes of which I had never seen before. even if I had to build his pyre with my own hands. . the most heart-breaking thing a man could do was perform the funeral rites for his son. I pulled the javelin from his chest and hurled it far into the night. Even when Ghatotkacha came to me that evening eleven days ago to tell me he had come to fight for me. I now knew a greater sorrow — here I stood. I never once thought to ask after his mother… And now he lay there at my feet. to go looking for her. I had thought. head bowed. in the shadows surrounding us I sensed the gathering presence of jackals sensing a feast. obsessed as I was with Draupadi.

our own elephants had the space to range free. dire. grouping his forces tight. In the distance I saw two chariots rushing in our direction. they were inflicting tremendous damage on our forces. wrecking havoc among the Kaurava chariots. the distinctive white horses of the first and the royal white umbrella on the second identifying them as those of my brothers. Drona. as he took up position at the head of the Panchala army. had failed in their bid to halt him and fallen to his arrows. “The only way to defeat him is to break his spirit. I had given the mahouts their orders: it wasn’t enough to defeat the warriors. picking weak spots in our defenses as they opened up and gutting us with unexpected tactical moves and his own mastery of weapons. one wing of the Kaurava army had been almost entirely destroyed. then Virat. had launched a ferocious assault on our position from the northern side – first Drupada.BHIMSEN 302 Episode 62 “Drona has to die today. Thanks largely to Ghatotkacha and his band. “Drona is invincible. but Drona’s mastery of war craft was unparalleled. The messages that came from other parts of the field were. leading our surviving force of elephants on a single-minded mission.” . We must announce that Ashwathama is dead… Drona should see us celebrating. the chariots had to be totally destroyed. his will. however.” Dhristadyumna said at dawn on the fifteenth day. It was up to me now to do to their chariots what my son had done to the foot soldiers.” Krishna said as they drew near. I began the day on my chariot. Even with hugely reduced numbers. It went well in our part of the field – with Bhagadatta dead and the bulk of his elephant force destroyed by Arjuna. backed by Karna and Ashwathama. Drona led brilliantly. The Kaurava forces had been decimated.

BHIMSEN 303 Will Drona believe us. with dharma… how can I now give up the principles of a lifetime?” With a visible effort. I saw Drona. Yudhishtira – not a game of dice. Krishna pointed at the massive bulk of an elephant I had killed just minutes earlier. when the dust settled.” he said. flew through the air and landed in the dust. “This is war. the entire force was celebrating wildly. his bloodied sword held high. . The Panchala soldiers nearby picked up on the cry and soon. Too many people have died so you can have your chance to rule in Hastinapura… it’s a bit too late to stand on scruples. to the blare of trumpets. “You want me to lie?” Yudhishtira was disturbed. The next few moments rushed past in a confused blur. Krishna fought down his anger. where Dhristadyumna was now locked in battle with Drona. his eyes fixed on Yudhishtira’s face. he drowned out my brother’s final words. lower his bow. Dhristadyumna’s horses plunged forward. severed clean at the neck. “Ashwathama is dead!” I proclaimed as we neared. His sword flashed.” Krishna said. holding the acharya by his tuft of hair. Yudhishtira threw a hand up in triumph. “Ashwathama. “I say the name of that beast is Ashwathama. Showing no emotion whatever. “No. “I say Ashwathama is dead – where is the lie in that?” At his urging we drove rapidly towards the northern part of the field. Not unless Yudhishtira tells him his son is dead. Dhristadyumna vaulted back onto his chariot and drove away from the field. I saw him standing on the deck of Drona’s chariot. Drona’s head. “Ashwathama is dead. I wondered. the elephant…” Krishna must have anticipated what my brother would do – with a triumphant blast on his conch.” My brother looked unconvinced. “Thus far I have tried to do everything that is consistent with truth.” he proclaimed.

“I get lessons in honor. As the fighting came to a halt. Dhristadyumna had remained calm through Satyaki’s attacks. from this pillar of the Vrishnis!” Satyaki’s hand flashed to his sword hilt.” Dhristadyumna’s laugh was suffused with scorn. he was a Brahmin.” Dhristadyumna said with unruffled calm. in ethics. even if he had to die. “He was an acharya. and that amoral brother of yours. you showed the bravery you upbraid me for lacking when you chopped his head off from behind! And now.” Satyaki persisted. Arjuna added unnecessary fuel to the fire. “Coward! For all your big talk. Satyaki – like you did when you killed Burisravas. about ethics? You are a shame on all kshatriyas!” “True. our acharya – it is not the same as when Satyaki killed Burisravas. Krishna interposed himself between him and Dhristadyumna – but just when I thought the tension would be defused. “I haven’t learnt to make all these fine distinctions about ‘honorable’ killing and dishonorable killing. but this proved more than he could take. a guru… but then what would you.” “Even if he was an enemy.BHIMSEN 304 Heralds signaled the fall of the Kaurava commander. you couldn’t defeat him in battle – and then to cut his head off when he was laying down his arms… Drona… a Brahmin… an acharya…!” “This is war. hence doubly sacred. And when Arjuna saved your life by cutting off Burisravas’ arm with an arrow. I was taken aback when Satyaki rushed up to Dhristadyumna. Drona was our guru. “I agree with Satyaki.” Yudhishtira chipped in. “What do we Panchalas know? We need you to set us all an example.” “He was a Brahmin.” Dhristadyumna snorted. . the rest of us drove off the field and in the direction of Yudhishtira’s lodge. “How did that happen? You — an example for kshatriyas everywhere — were on your knees begging him to spare your life. know about honor.

to save him is okay? “And you. any rule you break. none of us had the courage to do what all of us wanted done — none except Dhristadyumna. so anything you do. ordered Karna to attack Abhimanyu from behind?!” “Cowards will always find a way to justify their actions. I had finally come to the end of my patience. “Enough!” I roared. to pretend Ashwathama was dead? You lied. would it have somehow been consonant with your notions of honor and ethics. I forget — Satyaki is a friend. To win this war we had killed our own flesh and blood. Satyaki? So you think it was a grievous crime to cut off Drona’s head? Would it have been better.BHIMSEN 305 “Brahmin! Acharya! Guru! What respect. “Where was dharma then? Honor? Ethics? You wanted to win. violated every code – must we now add hypocrisy to the list of our sins? “Have we lost our minds? We. Arjuna? Where was that famous Brahmanyam when he. you wanted the acharya dead. for the man who ordered his generals to surround a 16 year old boy who was on his own – or have you forgotten how Abhimanyu was killed. you want to lessen your own guilt by rounding on him? What kind of men are we that we have sunk to this?” It was rare for me to speak out in public. we had lied. all of us. wanted to see Drona dead – it didn’t matter to us that he was our acharya. this man you revere as your guru. if necessary — or are you fooling yourself that by mumbling about an elephant your lie had somehow become the truth? “So what were we thinking? That Drona would drop dead on his own when he heard his son was dead? We knew someone had to kill him — and the fact is. And now that we have got what we wanted.” Satyaki muttered. and for that you were prepared to lie. “This acharya of yours. if one of us had killed him with an arrow shot from a distance? Or were you waiting for Drona to die a natural death?!” . we had cheated.” I swung around to confront my brother. Arjuna — what did he teach you? To cut down the arm of a warrior who was engaged with another? Oh. we had broken every rule. rarer still to speak at any length — but the accumulated hurts and griefs of the past two days finally proved too much for me to bear. We knew none of us could kill him in direct combat – isn’t that why Krishna asked us to lie. what praise.

honor. . the Kauravas had broken the rules repeatedly — and so had we.” I told Yudhishtira. not some game we were playing. tell him it is all over. and let’s head back into the forest!” An inoffensive water pot stood in my way. “Go to Duryodhana. rules.BHIMSEN 306 This was war. ethics – nice notions all. Since then. not caring what my brother made of my words. every one of which had died the day Bhisma fell. “If we are not prepared to face the consequences of a war we sought then let’s admit it now. Dharma. I smashed it in with a single kick and stormed out into the night.

never once asked for my advice. Karna’s tactics were more free-flowing. But never once had he sought me out for a private conversation. he said.BHIMSEN 307 Episode 63 Krishna was waiting for me when I returned to my lodge that night. Nakula was the first among us to face the full force of his fury. causing immense losses to our foot soldiers and cavalry. my help. In all these years of knowing him. From the moment the heralds signaled the start of combat. “You must talk to Yudhishtira.” he told me. Karna caught him at an unsupported moment in his defensive position on the . My brother – ever since the day Visokan had told me who he really was. he would seek me out. It is not good for him and Arjuna to quarrel. “You are the only one who can. swinging from one end of the field to the other. Karna hit us with the force of a whirlwind. Krishna was invariably punctilious in doing what he saw as his duty. it was this desire that had led to his quarrel with Bhisma. he made it a point to go first to see Yudhishtira and then. He led the Kaurava troops in a series of raids. as inevitably. touch my feet and ask after my well-being before going off to find his friend. He needed to talk to me. I’d guessed there would be trouble. and considerably more dangerous. I often caught myself thinking of Karna as my brother and even feeling a momentary twinge of anger when others referred to him as the suta putra – had wanted this command. Whenever he visited us. as he was doing now. If Bhisma and Drona had deployed strategies and tactics based on the principles of war craft we had been taught since we were young. catching us off balance and hitting us hard.” When Karna led the Kaurava troops out at dawn on that 16th day of the war with Shalya as his charioteer.

I thought afterwards that only the skill of Visokan and the timely arrival of Satyaki saved me from humiliation or worse. said over his shoulder. The story I heard was that when the startled wet nurses first heard his cry at birth. wounding him in a dozen places and finally. I spotted him as he was leaving the field to seek treatment for his many injuries. While his forces decimated the troops Nakula led. tire him out before closing with him. Karna toyed with my brother. destroying his weapons one by one. Where Karna had felt insulted at being bested by me and repeatedly tried to close the distance. jumping onto Nakula’s chariot. “Let him think they are all used up – when he looks to attack. as aware of the danger as I was. and Ashwathama could close the distance and use his greater skill to good effect. staying just out of ideal range. cutting his armor to shreds. Ashwathama’s skill as an archer was without parallel – and I was now finding out that he was considerably shrewder. effortlessly cut down the arrows I aimed at him. grappling with him and throwing him out into the dust. I tried to use my remaining stock of larger arrows and my superior shoulder strength to hurt him. My stock of special arrows was rapidly running out. “That suta putra told me to tell mother Kunti that he remembered his promise. even if I could – Ashwathama’s peculiar war cry rang out just then. and I turned to confront this challenge.” It was a desperate ploy. Drona’s son had a voice unlike any other – more the shrill neigh of a horse in rage than anything human. they gave him the name ‘Ashwathama’ – the one with a horse’s voice. “Save one or two of those. you might get a chance to use them. I looked to use the same tactics that had worked so well against Karna – with Visokan keeping a distance from Ashwathama’s chariot. “What promise? What did he mean? And why did he let me go? When he jumped onto my chariot.” a bewildered Nakula told me.BHIMSEN 308 right side of our formation and engaged him in combat. and would spare even the sons of Madri. Ashwathama increased it and.” Visokan. the danger for me would come when they were all gone. in a supreme act of contempt. . I thought the end had come…” I had no time to explain.

I vaulted out of my chariot. Dushasana and others insulted Draupadi that day at Hastinapura. Against him I used my sword like a bludgeon. using my superior strength to drain him. I had no intention of killing this youngest of my cousins.BHIMSEN 309 The prolonged combat had drained me. besides. Chitrasena fancied himself as something of a swordsman – back when we all trained together. but we were cut off by a band of Duryodhana’s brothers attacking in formation. For this I needed no strategies. cut deep into his neck. The skill level of the younger ones in the group was rudimentary – in a few moments of furious combat. With only Chitrasena and Vikarna left standing. I judged my moment and. Vikarna ran to where his brother lay in the dust. suddenly disengaged and with a reverse sweep. he loved to show off his skills. but I had practiced it with the sword whenever Arjuna and I trained together. The pressure of holding on to the sword began to tell on Chitrasena’s already weakened wrists. Instead of repelling his thrust. I needed to replenish my stock of arrows. I had never forgotten that when Duryodhana. He was good. instead of merely deflecting his attacks. burning anger that surged up within me whenever I caught sight of any of my cousins. with Visokan weaving the chariot in and out of their ranks. I repeatedly smashed my sword against his on the blocks. Vikarna was the only one in the Kaurava ranks to brave Duryodhana’s anger and to protest the wrong that was being done. no tactics – just the deep. It was with drawn sword that I met him. six of them fell to a combination of my arrows and spears. I caught Chitrasena’s sword on the blade of my own and rapidly twirled it around in quick circles. There is a trick that I had learnt during my time with the Nagas – they use it with spears. sword in hand. I sensed that he was tiring fast. when our swords were at the lowest point on the circle. I signaled to Visokan to drive off the field. From the diminished power of his strikes and the time he took to bring his sword back in line after each thrust. his life blood gushing out through the cut in his neck. . no question – fast on his feet and lightning quick at switching the angles of his attack.

“That set him off. Karna stood over him.” Krishna told me. “I’ve been hearing him talk endlessly about how he will deal with Karna – but now that the time has come. Karna toyed with Yudhishtira. give your Gandiva to Krishna – maybe. driving a chariot is what suits you best!” . wishing things had been different.” he told me. then left him lying there in the dust with a parting word and a kick. before he could recover. wishing his decency had prevailed with his own brothers… I strode back to my chariot and ordered Visokan to drive me back to my lodge.” Yudhishtira said.” he said.BHIMSEN 310 I was walking back to my chariot when his challenge stopped me in my tracks. my brother had foolishly challenged him. wanting space. The last thing I expected was to find Krishna waiting for me.” I told him. upbraided him bitterly for leaving you alone on the battlefield…” Krishna had tried to pacify Yudhishtira. He then threw aside his own weapons and attacked Yudhishtira with his fists. I buried my sword in his chest all the way to the hilt. Yudhishtira fell. For a long moment I stood looking down at this most honorable of my cousins. “I’ve been listening to his boasts for thirteen years. mocking. I decided to finish this fast – it was the only thing I could do for him. I blocked his downward cut with my elbow against his forearm. battering him into submission. “If you can’t do it. I lowered Vikarna gently to the ground and pulled my sword out. “I don’t want to fight you. Alarmed by the havoc Karna was creating. knocking his sword out of line. His answer was to rush at me with his sword raised high. wishing I could have befriended him. needing some time to myself. My brother retreated to his lodge. destroying his chariot and disarming him with ease. “Yudhishtira and Arjuna had a huge quarrel today. like that suta putra you are so afraid to face. “He called Arjuna all sorts of names. and found Arjuna there. but that only goaded my brother more. taunting. Catching him as he fell. he hides here while Karna destroys our forces! “Coward!.

this man who has always stayed a mile away from any actual fighting.BHIMSEN 311 Seeing Arjuna’s hand tighten on the hilt of his sword. “From the moment he saw her he wanted Draupadi. he says if Yudhishtira wants a kingdom let him shed his own blood. “But now Arjuna has shut himself up in his lodge. “You are the only one they will listen to. As I walked over to Yudhishtira’s lodge. and he managed to trick mother into getting her married to all five of us! “He talks of cowardice.” Krishna said. Krishna had hastily come between my brothers. I’ll take it – but not this…” Krishna had somehow managed to push Arjuna outside before either of them could say something irrevocable. But Yudhishtira’s words had pushed Arjuna over the edge. If Bhima calls me a coward. hiding in the middle of our troops and letting others kill and die so he can be king. “This fellow – what has he ever done but live off the fruits of others?” Arjuna lashed out. looking to make peace. I couldn’t help thinking that our real problem was not the Kauravas but the bitterness each of us had accumulated over the years. . win the war if he can.

and there was no question that we would prevail if only through sheer numbers. The Kaurava forces had stretched out in front of us. now shorn of so many of the soldiers that had once covered it. Those deaths had to happen. “I wish I could take it all back.BHIMSEN 312 Episode 64 War is all consuming – every minute of your time. Duryodhana and Dushasana lay dead on the field. It was as I took position at the head of our formation on the morning of the 17th day that I realized just what all those many moments added up to. as far as the eye could see and then beyond. Of the two. The view brought home to me with great clarity that the war was effectively over — we had the greater troop numbers left standing. Sixteen days ago when I had stood in this identical position and looked ahead. added to finding Arjuna here in the lodge and not on the battlefield facing Karna – I must have hurt our brother grievously…” . The days pass by not in minutes and hours but in the blood of the enemy you just killed so you can move beyond him to the enemy you must kill next. it had seemed as if we were confronting an enemy without end. I found him already regretting his illconsidered words. “I don’t know why I said what I did – the humiliation of defeat at that suta putra’s hands. I could see where the Kaurava troops began – and where it ended. and of them I would regret only Karna’s – but that wasn’t something I could tell my brothers. Yet the killing would not stop — not until Karna. Yudhishtira was the easier to convince – when I left Krishna and went to his lodge. from that identical position. beyond the last enemy I could see the expanse of the Kurukshetra battlefield. every corner of your mind.” he told me even before I could sit down. I realized with a start that today. is filled with the enemy who comes at you in endless waves. even during that endless night I had just spent with Yudhishtira and Arjuna.

Clearly he needed to vent. he manipulated us all just so he could enjoy her… What kind of elder brother is he that he could do that. the one person closest to me. the throne of Hastinapura remains at stake. “Yudhishtira lusted after Draupadi from the moment he set eyes on her. yet he didn’t lift a finger to try and win her. abused me without cause — and now because he has had a change of heart. instead he tricked our mother. bent his bow and hit the target – yet even today. So many years had passed. behind the strength of your arms – he had no right to accuse me of cowardice. in his present mood. it was the one thing that rankled above all others. who can subvert justice for his own pleasure?!” I listened in silence. This was my kid brother.” Yudhishtira told me. fighting down my rising impatience – an impatience exacerbated by the fact that I felt the justice in at least some of his criticism. . I knew that loyalty to family would prevent him from speaking in such terms even to Krishna. How can I now go to him?” “Because he is your elder brother. his dearest friend. You could die tomorrow and so could I – and it won’t matter because as long as Yudhishtira lives. “Because he is your king – and the reason you are fighting this war. “He insulted me. in Drupada’s court. “Brother. what kind of king is this we are hell bent on making. don’t go – I’m beyond caring. bitter.” Words tumbled out of him then – hot. I was the only one he could say all this to – knowing him as I did. I must take back my words…. I wasn’t wrong — Arjuna came running up as I strode through the empty lane. “I must tell him how sorry I am. knowing even as I put on that display of calculated anger that it was the one thing most likely to force my brother. if it had been you who said those things I would not have reacted as I did – but this man who hides behind our army.” I said and stormed out of the lodge.” “Why?” Arjuna demanded when I went to his lodge with the message. angry.BHIMSEN 313 “Ask Arjuna to come. I have to go to him so he can be magnanimous and tell me how sorry he is?” “Go to him.” I told him. so much blood had been shed since the day he had. to listen to me. as clearly.

hugged me with a sudden fierceness. in me to suggest that he should seek out our brother – while I understood the deference due to the eldest. I promised mother that I would see our brother on the throne of Hastinapura or die in the attempt. Karna or I. in the direction of our brother’s lodge. “Brother. to make peace when the quarrel was not of your seeking. and now he did not know what to do.” Arjuna said to me. then so be it — I will kill Karna. he was clearly the one at fault. And then he stopped. As they passed my position.” “But this much I know – I cannot now abandon this war. and was back in his chariot before I could react. it was Yudhishtira’s responsibility to care for the feelings of his brothers — and besides. times without number during these last few years I have felt that our brother was wrong to do what he did or to say what he had. to kill him before I can get to Duryodhana. “Brother. Before it began. . What could I say to him? It was not. I will not live with the knowledge that I went back on my promises – so if you withdraw and I have to face Karna at dawn. I realized.” I walked away. When I reached my lodge. all talked out and looking drained. I couldn’t help thinking that as the older brother. I glanced back over my shoulder – and saw Arjuna walking slowly. or die trying. spent. I cannot ask you to go to him now.BHIMSEN 314 I had no choice but to stand and to listen as years of accumulated angst poured out of him in a tidal rush. Arjuna’s chariot darted forward. I made two promises. “today only one of us. heading straight to the focal point of the Kaurava formation where Karna had taken position. painfully. Filled with a sense of portent. I agree with much that you say. Krishna stopped the chariot. with Dushasana protecting his left flank and Ashwathama his right. The heralds sounded their trumpets. He had nothing more to say. we moved into formation even before dawn. will leave the field alive. And I promised myself that I would kill every one of those who that day insulted Draupadi in open assembly.” He jumped onto the deck of my chariot.

I exulted as I roared out my own challenge – finally. a powerful overhead swing at my head. trusting to his strength to somehow smash through. the first one a defensive tap to push his mace out of line and the second a powerful crash of my mace on his. The rage I had nursed deep inside of me for close to 14 years needed more – I needed the immediacy. and easy enough to block. I knew I could defeat him – he was not half the fighter he thought he was. swung my own mace in a short. I skipped out of line and. It was a blow of anger. But instead of blocking his blow overhead. Dushasana always thought he was as good or better. I threw aside my bow and quiver. a chance to fulfil a vow I had made so many years ago. There is something impersonal about fighting from a chariot – you fire your arrows. forcing him to . the physicality of hand to hand combat. I needed to confront him with the fact of his own death before I dealt the killing blow.BHIMSEN 315 With the field denuded as it was. and all you can do is wait for the enemy to make a false move. deep inside. Dushasana had a weakness he was not aware of – he was always just that little bit jealous of his elder brother. as the mace whistled past me.” Visokan was at his best – weaving the chariot deftly through the Kaurava lines. roaring a challenge I knew he would be unable to resist. picked up my mace and vaulted onto the ground. But I wanted more – I had to humiliate him. hard stroke powered by every ounce of muscle in my shoulders and arms. the enemy fires his. “Dushasana is mine. cutting across his path. He fought to control it and swung at my ribs. “Help Dhristadyumna against Ashwathama. he cut in at an angle that separated Dushasana from Karna. I found it easier to sense what was going on across the two formations. again I hit him with the double strike. not sense. to expose some chink you can exploit. Finally. I saw Satyaki dashing up to challenge Dushasana and ordered Visokan to drive at an angle. The world acclaimed Duryodhana as peerless with the mace. He swung his mace. My mace smashed into his. the charioteers manipulate the horses.” I yelled as we crossed.

As he fought desperately for breath and balance. mace held in front of him. where the strain had begun to tell. smashed his mace with mine. more desperation than skill in the charge. hard strikes. bearing down while my hands hammered down at his ribs. this time. I absorbed his blows. I waited to see the realization of death in his eyes – and bore down hard. He charged headlong. He stumbled. staggered backwards – and fell. looking bewildered. increasing the pressure gradually and ignoring his feeble struggles. he struck at me – blows that were badly timed. He reeled back. the techniques you had learnt are always the first casualty. I turned sideways and drove the heel of my foot hard into his stomach. aiming not for his body but for his mace. lacking in any real power. I threw my mace away. gasping for breath. I noticed him flexing his arms. “Bare hands. In an instant I was on him. My hands splayed.BHIMSEN 316 exert all his strength to keep the mace from being wrenched from his grasp. jolting his head back in time for my left elbow to crash into his exposed throat. in his face. In continuation of a block. “Your hands were strong enough to drag Draupadi to the assembly – now show me what you can do to me!” He ran at me. Exulting in my knowledge that he was finished. I took my time. Dushasana backed away. I sidestepped and again. deliberately. my knee on his throat. I hammered my open palms into his ears. It was as if the world around us didn’t exist anymore – my whole being was consumed with the lust for a revenge I had long dreamt of. I gradually brought all my strength to bear on his lower ribs.” I roared. Dushasana. . With clenched fists. fingers curved to hook into his ribcage. taking them on the body and on my shoulders – and laughed loudly. It was a lesson I had learnt a long time ago – when fear swamps your senses. I saw the sweat break out on his brow as Dushasana backed up. I saw the first hint of fear dawn in his eyes – and switched from defense to attack. which I bludgeoned in short. I followed up that blow by pressing my attack. I smashed the heel of my palm up under his chin.

Tell her Dushasana is dead… tell her I’ve killed him and drunk his blood. Involuntarily. the blood dripping down her legs. I licked my lips again – this time slowly. I pushed down harder. In a daze. whose lips would part and breasts heave as she listened to stories of killing. drenching my face. deliberately. his ribs gave way. A great gout of blood gushed up from his shattered chest. The metallic. driving the broken bones into his lungs. I had vowed then as I watched Dushasana dragging Draupadi to the center of the assembly. “Go. lingering on the taste of revenge.” I told Visokan. Tell her from me that she can tie her hair up again…” . I licked my lips. “Go to Draupadi.BHIMSEN 317 With a sudden crack. of blood. my thoughts on a woman waiting somewhere on the other side of the river – a woman with skin of gold. with hair that hung down her back like a black waterfall… a woman who loved to hear of battles. his heart. I will drink your blood. I walked towards my chariot. slightly sour taste of warm blood reminded me of that day in Hastinapura.

I thought as I lay in the dark. after Visokan left me beside Dushasana’s body. Moments later Arjuna and Dhristadyumna rushed in. Drums thumped and trumpets pealed. trying without success to shut out thoughts of all that had happened that day. “Why are you here by yourself?” Arjuna demanded.” I told him. the more drunk. get yourself drunk. And from the lane outside came the sounds of soldiers celebrating the knowledge that their war was over. . “I don’t need you — I don’t need anyone around me tonight. I commandeered an elephant and from its back. and wandered off into the night. staring into the blackness – it anaesthetizes the senses and inhibits thought.” He gave me a strange look. and it was hard to tell which was the more boisterous. that they had escaped death. “Go join in the celebrations. The prevailing mood appeared to have seized even Visokan. surveyed the field.BHIMSEN 318 Episode 65 Sounds of unbridled revelry came to me as I lay in my bed late that night. I snapped at him. The thought had first come to me when. “Come join the fun – Yudhishtira is actually singing and dancing. you must see this!” What could I say? “You killed our eldest brother today – what is there to celebrate in that?” I bit down on the thought before it found voice. When he asked me for the third time in less than an hour if I needed something. Noise is good. grabbing an arm and trying to pull me to my feet. balladeers – with an enthusiasm fuelled in equal parts by sura and silver coins – sang incessantly of the greatest archer the world had ever seen.

As they curved through the air and came down towards Arjuna. Karna and Arjuna were evenly matched in strength and. he fired a series of white-painted arrows into their midst to conjure the effect of lightning flashes amidst rain. each striving to gain some little advantage over the other. a brother will die today. piloting their chariots in a dazzling series of moves and countermoves. used in deadly combat as Karna was doing now. I could see the distinctive white horses of Arjuna’s chariot and the golden chestnut ones of Karna’s. I saw Karna in a brilliant move fire a stream of arrows high up in the air. Karna fired a series of arrows in a straighter line. and then do it all over again — for what? To amuse people with nothing better to do? What I practiced with the mace. Strangely. As I neared the combat zone. I thought at the time. Either way. As I urged my elephant closer to the scene of the duel. had a point to it — the skills I was practicing to perfection were the ones I would some day use in actual combat… Now I saw the point — the “tricks” that amused crowds at a martial arts exhibition were the very ones that. in skill. Arjuna had dazzled the spectators with a trick. as they came down. I thought to myself as I guided the elephant in that direction. it didn’t really matter which one it was — I knew I would feel equally devastated. whirling in and out of a swirling dust cloud. re-pack his quiver. when we were still young boys learning the art and craft of war and Drona had called for a trial of strength. of endless hours spent practicing such tricks? After each attempt he had to painstakingly gather up his arrows. he had shot a stream of arrows high into the air. From my vantage point the duel seemed to be as much about Krishna and Shalya as it was about my brothers – the two demonstrated unbelievable skill. All those years ago. What was the point. the bow and arrow and in the wrestling pit. At blinding speed. forcing Arjuna to defend at two levels – the ones coming down from above and the ones coming at him straight. I saw Arjuna do something I had never seen before — firing continuously with his . as far as I could see.BHIMSEN 319 Off in the distance. could force the enemy to confront different challenges.

“This from the man who sneaked behind a sixteen year old boy and cut his bow string from the back! . “Kshatriya dharma!” Krishna’s voice cut through the hubbub. These must be poison tipped. six of these arrows onto the string at the same time and fire them simultaneously. Shalya was furiously whipping his horses but strain as they would. a groan of despair went up from the Kaurava ranks. seamlessly to his left and used what seemed to me some special arrows. I jumped down. almost like needles. I thought. There was no way I could make a path for my elephant through the milling crowd. Around them. he switched suddenly. but there was no sign of Karna. Over the heads of the crowd. Using my arms and lowered shoulders to smash a way through the crowd. the atmosphere was incongruously festive. desperately trying to lift the wheel of his chariot out of a rut it appeared to have gotten caught in. With each side cheering on their champion and jeering the opponent. eyes fixed on Karna. Arjuna stood on the chariot deck. he gradually lowered his bow. the wheel refused to budge. I could see the chestnut horses and the head of Shalya in the charioteer’s seat.BHIMSEN 320 right hand and establishing a line of attack.” I heard Karna say. I saw the white horses standing stock still. Their battle must have been going on for a long time — Arjuna and Karna were both bathed in sweat and streaked with the dust raised by their chariots. that he was able to notch five. multiplying the danger to the enemy. the fighting had come to a standstill as everyone in the vicinity gathered to watch the duel of the master archers. they were so thin. I got to the front — and saw Karna down on one knee. dripping scorn in every syllable. face grim. “Wait till I free the wheel – kshatriya dharma demands that you allow me that…” Arjuna looked confused. bowstring drawn taut. “I am unarmed. hoping to push a way through the crowd – and even as I straightened.

a third arrow impaling his throat. arms spread wide. another burst through his breastplate. the suta putra who caused this war.” he shouted as he folded me in a hug. “There he lies. Satyaki. an arrow thudded into Karna’s shoulder and. Arjuna. Karna put his shoulder to the wheel and his hands on the hub. stands before you – do your duty!” Just then. have the right to rank himself with kshatriyas and to invoke our dharma?!” Krishna demanded. “Where are the musicians. Nakula and others raced to catch up. not quite knowing what it was I intended to do. The heralds had blown the end of combat. Karna slumped backwards against the wheel. throwing the scene in gloom. a passing cloud obscured the sun. “I did it – I’ve killed Karna like I promised I would!” He danced away into Krishna’s embrace. I saw the sudden gush of blood as the arrow drove deep. to the peerless archer. no one noticed me standing off to one side. In their excitement. hands thrown up in triumph. . turning to Arjuna. and strained mightily. Dhristadyumna. this suta putra. A blast from Krishna’s conch was drowned by Arjuna’s triumphant roar. Yudhishtira jumped down from his chariot and rushed forward. “Karna is dead. an instant later. the killer of your son. an instant later. Help Karna free the wheel of his chariot? Stop Arjuna from killing his eldest brother? It was all too late – Arjuna’s bow flashed up. in a hurry to celebrate. His head tilted to one side and his eye fixed on Arjuna. I saw despair in his eyes and took a hasty step forward. eyes fixed on Karna’s lifeless form.” he yelled. the equal of Indra himself!!” Arjuna spotted me and rushed up. Nakula and Satyaki all ran forward to add to the acclaim.BHIMSEN 321 “Since when did Adhirata’s son. Dhristadyumna. as he turned under the impact. the singers?! Let them sing to my beloved brother. “Brother. “What are you waiting for? The sworn enemy of the Pandavas. My brothers got in their chariots and drove towards our camp.

the wheel of his chariot supporting his back. As gently as I could. his throat. not moving. I stood there. And even as I did. I cringed at the cowardice that made me glance hastily around to make sure I was alone. I was all alone. his chest. And then I bent low and touched his feet — seeking from him in death the blessings I had never been able to get in life. not thinking. I arranged him so he was comfortable — his legs stretched in front of him. leaving my brother’s body there for the chandalas. the dejected Kauravas gradually drifted away. not feeling – just waiting until. And then I walked up to where Karna lay. I wiped the sweat and the blood off his face. finally. . I pulled out the arrows that had impaled his shoulder.BHIMSEN 322 Around me. With my robe. that no one had seen this act of mine. Responding to the promptings of some inner need.

as soon as the bugles sounded. talking desultorily of all that we had been through. Yudhishtira headed in that direction. seemingly intent on battle. did not bother to take the field. it was obvious he was prompted not by any expectation of victory as by his own notions of kshatriya dharma. When our uncle led the tattered remnants of the Kaurava troops out onto the field that dawn with only Shakuni among the major warriors for company.BHIMSEN 323 Episode 66 “They saw three men standing by the lake. Off to one side of the field. looming ever larger in my mind. talking.” Visokan told us with the air of having penetrated some deep mystery. the belief that a kshatriya who once sets foot on the field of battle cannot turn back until the war is won or he is killed. headed straight for Sakuni’s position. fell to Yudhishtira’s arrows. I saw no sign of Ashwathama and Duryodhana in the Kaurava ranks. and decided to stick close to Yudhishtira. Sahadeva replaced me at the head of our forces and. Nakula had engaged Shalya. while waiting for the final throw of dice that would send us into exile. exhausted from their revelry of the previous night. Over the last 17 days he had never once been part of any decisive battle involving a major warrior on the Kaurava side. to guard against some last minute surprise. Sahadeva had told me he would one day seek out and kill Shakuni – another promise fulfilled and one more left. So many years ago. Dhristadyumna and I were resting in my lodge. A messenger came with news that Shakuni had fallen. Arjuna and Dhristadyumna. he alone among us had no deeds the balladeers could praise in song. The war was over – it had officially ended the moment Shalya. . the latest commander in chief of the Kauravas.

The suddenly freed horses bolted. talking of all that we had been through. I used a few cleverly placed arrows to cut the traces of Shalya’s chariot. but Shalya was his equal or better – and unlike Yudhishtira. My brother was fairly skilled in fighting from the chariot. Yudhishtira immersed himself in the task of breaking up the camp and preparing for our return. Our troops roared in celebration as the Kaurava army. I left them to it and went back to my lodge. The war was. “These are hunters who live in the forest here.BHIMSEN 324 My brother seemed bent on redressing that. once our term of exile was over. talking. “He was alone and on foot. turned tail and ran. I maintained position to his left and a little behind. “They saw three men standing by the river bank. finally. now bereft of leaders.” When we reached camp. heading in the direction of the river. joined our camp. our uncle had a lifetime of experience to draw on. bringing the Madra king to a standstill.” Three men talking by the riverbank – what. from where I could keep an eye on the field and intervene if necessary. Discreetly. Yuyutsu had abandoned the Kaurava side after the events in the assembly hall and. With Nakula and Sahadeva to help. sure enough. Dhristadyumna found me there a few minutes later. Shalya soon fell before Yudhishtira’s arrows.” I reminded Yudhishtira as we headed back to camp. I fell back to await the inevitable outcome.” Visokan told us. “Duryodhana still lives. Born to Dhritarashtra through a serving maid. Yudhishtira summoned Yuyutsu and charged him with rounding up a few boats and conveying our womenfolk to Hastinapura. I wondered. was Visokan fussing about? . “I saw him fleeing from the field. over. without giving my brother reason to suspect I had taken a hand.” Visokan interrupted. that Visokan entered the lodge with two tribals in tow. he challenged Shalya to direct combat. Racing his chariot past Nakula’s. Yudhishtira seemed to be managing well enough against our uncle. and it was as we were sipping from a skin of sura.

I climbed into Dhristadyumna’s chariot and we set off after Visokan. so come out and fight for it like a man!” “Is it manly for so many of you to surround someone who is exhausted. calm. “We’ll go see if we can pick up his trail. sheltered from sight by the boats. “He is hiding in there. . “We tracked him from the riverbank to this place. The only thing to do is shame him into showing himself. Duryodhana was hiding in their midst. the tribal told us. “It is not possible to find him – we don’t know where to start looking. running towards my chariot with the two tribals in tow. Visokan was waiting for us.” The lake stretched in front of us. and defenseless?” The voice came to us from amidst the rushes. The hubbub had alerted everyone in our camp. Within minutes. “Duryodhana! Coward! You wanted this war – you wanted the kingdom for your own. A tribal was waiting at the river bank to guide us. a few boats bobbed about. yelling instructions to the soldiers.” Visokan said. was known locally as Dwaipayana. Krishna.” he told me. at his direction. placid. we moved away from the river and through the woods until we came upon an immense lake that.” Krishna suggested. Arjuna. and going after him. These men are sure he is in there somewhere – they think he could be hiding in one of the subterranean caves. Dhristadyumna raced out of the lodge. I toyed with the idea of diving in.BHIMSEN 325 “They say these three were talking to a fourth person who couldn’t be seen…” “Duryodhana!” Even as the realization dawned in me. a force mounted on horseback raced in the direction of the river with instructions to flush out the fugitive. Amidst the rushes near the bank. Yudhishtira and the others followed in our wake. Yudhishtira approached the bank of the lake.

enough of Hastinapura. “My brothers are dead. Hastinapura is yours!” I chanced to glance at Krishna. unable to take back the words he had spoken in a moment of unthinking arrogance. . right now. your friends and relatives to die for the sake of your greed. I noticed movement among the reeds. Come on out and fight – it is the least you owe those who died for you. “What if he picks you or Nakula or Sahadeva – and chooses to fight with the mace? “Apparently the sons of Pandu are destined to spend their entire lives in some forest or other.” “The man who can defeat me with the mace is yet to be born. My brother stood there crestfallen. muttering to himself. eyes locked on his.” Duryodhana’s disembodied voice floated out to us. what is there left for me? Of what use to me is a kingdom of widows? I give it all up — let me go. “We have a history between us. your selfishness – and all you care about now that they are dead is saving your own skin?! “I will not take the kingdom without defeating you. “Let’s settle it all right here. Duryodhana – and many. many debts to settle. and saw his face crumple in dismay at these words. his favorite mace with the golden handle in his hand. I will retire to the forest and do penance for the rest of my life…” “Have you no shame?” My brother seemed inspired by a rage he was no longer in control of. your choice of weapons… if you win. Duryodhana emerged. Maces – and only one of us walks out of here alive. “Are you mad!” he muttered in disgust.” I said. you fool!” His voice was harsh with contempt. “I accept!” I saw the glimmer of hope in his eyes as he walked towards Yudhishtira. caked in mud from head to toe.BHIMSEN 326 “I have had enough of this war. Pick any one of us — single combat. “You send your brothers. because this man is at heart a gambler!” Krishna walked off. I stepped forward. my friends are dead.

. “Our battle will be one for the gods – and when I am done with you. your brothers can wander in the forest for the rest of their lives. his arrogance — and the contempt he always had for me — kicked in. Drona had to stop me from killing you. “That’s right — I remember now. The first time we met. during the trial of strength. it seemed to me that for that one instant in time.” My trick had worked. “Come!” he said. I had him now.BHIMSEN 327 I laughed in his face. knowing you died in vain. just when all seemed lost. And the last time we met. you ran like the coward you are!” He hesitated. on the field of battle. he was contemplating the escape route Yudhishtira had so carelessly offered him. And then something snapped. as I had hoped it would.

not hurt. it more than made up in the speed with which he could wield the lighter weapon. Balarama always spoke of impartiality. In a move I had never seen before. All those years ago. Even as I moved to defend. Early into our bout.BHIMSEN 328 Episode 67 Duryodhana leapt high. Balarama had gone off on an extended pilgrimage to avoid taking sides – but only after he made sure the bulk of the Dwaraka army would fight under the Kaurava flag. of how the Pandavas and Kauravas were equally dear to him and how he wanted no part of our quarrels – but for all that. I blocked it with ease – and realized too late that the move was meant to distract. smashing his heel against my shoulder and sending me staggering backwards. I had won by using my strength. his left hand came off the mace. . hammering my mace repeatedly against his to tire his wrists and arms. going low in a counter. I went at him hard from the moment Balarama finished his little speech.” Krishna had said as Balarama’s chariot rolled into the glade. taking him under his wing and teaching him the tricks of the mace. he had over the years favored Duryodhana. when we fought for the first time during the trial of strength. I bent at the knee. Whatever it lost in power. and then he flicked it at my face like a whip. Or maybe it just felt that way. When war seemed inevitable. “Just in time to watch your two disciples in battle. We had been fighting for a long time. Duryodhana lashed out with his leg. The right hand slid down the handle till his fingers held it by the tip. Thinking to repeat that tactic. I realized that Duryodhana’s mace – his favorite one with the gold-plated handle and the wickedly sharp spikes along the head – was considerably lighter than mine.

forced me into a defensive posture.BHIMSEN 329 I had listened to his little speech about fair play. spun in reverse with startling speed. . as he had repeatedly done since our battle began. using his lighter mace and his agility to advantage. find his weakness and figure out how to exploit it. I smothered the impact by stepping into the blow and blocking the handle with my body — but even so it stung. Duryodhana jumped high. still on my knee. I sensed desperation in him as our battle dragged on. With sudden clarity. What made his tactic dangerous was that he kept changing the angle of attack – sometimes he jumped high and swung down at my head. driving the breath out of me and forcing me to one knee. he was as drained as I was. swinging. He must have known his best chance was to finish me off quickly. about the rules of combat and about making him proud of us. spun around with a sweeping strike at his legs that forced him to jump back. I parried and. What had started off as a contest of speed and strength was slowly turning into a battle of skill and wits. There was an increased frenzy to his attacks. I was gasping for breath and struggling with the sweat that poured down my face and into my eyes – and by the look of him. There was no time to bring my mace around. My arms were beginning to feel the strain. giving me room to recover. at other times he feinted. and swung at my left. I realized I had to change my tactics. before my strength and endurance began to wear him down. underarm swing aimed at the right side of my chest. then waited till he was on the way down to attack me from an angle lower than I was prepared for. as my mace met his in a block he disengaged. with growing disbelief – did he think this was some contest got up for his amusement? Duryodhana swung at me – a powerful. I saw the flaw in his tactics – and what I had to do. Duryodhana roared in triumph and charged.

before Duryodhana would go airborne again. Duryodhana changed tack and launched a series of swift attacks. my rage. This time. swinging the mace to the left and right with great dexterity and putting all his power into each strike. Duryodhana crashed to the ground. The crack of breaking bones as the head of my mace smacked into his side told me all I needed to know.BHIMSEN 330 I breathed deep to center myself. I had to make him think I was more tired than I was. letting one hand come off the handle and taking one of his strikes on my body. spun around and using the momentum of my turn and the full strength of my arms. I smashed my mace against his momentarily unprotected ribs. aiming for my shoulders and chest. waited till he was committed and then pulled out of the feint. he is unarmed. and settled down to a calculated defense. our maces struck sparks off each other. Vaguely through the percussive pounding of blood in my head. but even so his mace landed on my side with a thud that drove the breath out of me. the mace flying out of his hand. I heard my brothers yelling encouragement. To exploit the weakness I had spotted. Seemingly hard-pressed. conserving my strength and waiting for my opportunity. I shut it all out – their shouts. blocking his attacks without launching any of my own. as he reached the apex of his jump he swung from the right. I knew. Dimly. that it was all I could do to defend — and that he had no reason to fear a sudden counterattack. I did the best I could to minimize the impact. that my reflexes were slowing down.” “Bhima. I staggered back. I knew I had to take a serious blow – and this was it. I countered with force. I heard the voices: “No. I made as if to block. you have won …” “NO!” . the memories of all the insults Duryodhana had visited on us… It was only a matter of time. I bit down hard on the searing pain.

He took a step towards me. “I vowed to kill Duryodhana – and kill him I will. Duryodhana raised his legs in a desperate attempt to block. something snapped. “He was unarmed – to hit him then… it was wrong!” I stared at my brother in disbelief. Just yesterday. mace poised. this was wrong?! I looked away and caught Balarama’s eye. “What have you done?!” Yudhishtira rushed up to me. “Anyone who thinks to stop me can step forward now and try!” I waited. he was straining to get away from Krishna and Satyaki. Duryodhana was finished – I knew that he would die of his wounds even if I didn’t lay another finger on him. Karna had voluntarily put down his weapons. I know no kshatriya dharma greater than that!” I raised my mace high overhead. “Duryodhana was the better fighter — you tricked him and then. against the laws of combat! Coward!” Deep inside of me. his eyes locked on mine. I adjusted and smashed the mace down against Duryodhana’s thigh. who struggled to hold him back. “Coward!” he screamed. he had danced with glee when Arjuna felled Karna. But this – this was more than I had the fortitude to bear.BHIMSEN 331 Almost as if it had a will of my own. just below his waist. Duryodhana had lost his in a battle that had not yet ended – that was right. And then he stopped. His face contorted with rage. then another. when he was unarmed. “Let him go!” I roared at Krishna. right now. as Krishna and Satyaki let Balarama go and stepped back. my mace rose high overhead. amazed –not for the first time – at a sense of wrong and right that he seemed able to switch on and off at will. . right here. defenseless and hurt you hit him! Your act was against dharma.

every evening. as he held out a cloth for me to dry the sweat that poured off me in an unending stream. I threw away my robes – and felt the soothing. and thought back to what I once was – the little boy who. crashing into the side of Duryodhana’s head. That prayer had come true. I had grown big and strong – there was in my world no warrior to equal me. no one who had ever bested me in combat. Vaayu – where were you when I was all alone. done all that I vowed to do — and yet. would come to the riverbank looking for his father… the boy who. Almost in continuation of that blow. “It is a good weapon. the thigh he had slapped in a lascivious invitation to my wife a bloodied. mentally and physically drained by the toughest battle I had ever fought in my life. my last remaining enemy lay breathing his last in the dust. I flung my mace away. I had become what I wanted to be. I floated in the water. On the deck. the best warrior of all time. would pray with all his heart to become the strongest. For long moments I stood there. the bravest. what did I have? A wife I shared with four others… two other wives whose faces I couldn’t remember… a son who had given up his life for those who had delighted in his dying. my friends’… eyes that looked down on my dying enemy with pity… eyes that lacerated me with a scorn I had done nothing to deserve… I walked over to where Visokan waited with the chariot. I saw my blood spattered mace. I heard the sound of Visokan driving away. my kinsmen’s.” Visokan said gently. I had fulfilled my vows. when my enemies covered me with their arrows and my friends with their contempt? As I dived into the river. on feeling that first gentle touch of breeze on skin. “What does it know of dharma and adharma? What does it care?” He drove slowly towards the river. healing caress of a gentle breeze. My ‘father’. and painfully hauled myself in. every last one of them. letting the gentle eddies rock me like a baby in its cradle. broken mess. I felt their eyes… my brothers’. I had no further use for it – my war was over.BHIMSEN 332 I held his eyes with mine as my mace came down with all my strength. two other sons who I did .

Draupadi’s sons… Prativindhya. With him was Kritavarma. I thought I smelt smoke… The urgent clatter of horses’ hooves woke me from my reverie. Ashwathama came in the middle of the night. At some point. Ashwathama cut them down one by one in the dark. who had become inseparable from his cousins… Young men… boys. “They are dead… Ashwathama… he came in the night. my heart. He jumped down before the chariot had come to a halt and ran towards me. matching the darkness that swamped my mind. They set the camp on fire – that must have been the smoke I sensed. with them went Krishna and Satyaki. I sat there for a long. really – the future of the Kuru race. a question welled up and lodged in my throat: who? My brothers had gone off into the forest to celebrate the victory. sobbing. Shatanika. and ignored… as our people woke to this conflagration and rushed out in panic. Dhristadyumna… our children. Suthasoma. long time. From the depths of a heart grown suddenly cold. he told them. I looked around for my robe as Visokan drove up at reckless speed. for whom we had slaughtered our kin and won a kingdom… All dead. Dhristadyumna broke away from the party – I want to celebrate with the first good night’s sleep I have had since this started. like a thief… he set fire to our camp… he killed them all while they slept…” He collapsed to the ground. Shrutakirti. . and Kripa – the guru of our race. Shrutakarma… my son Sarvadha.BHIMSEN 333 not know… and brothers who could never appreciate the depth of feeling I had for them… Evening gave way to the pitch black of night. sobs wracking his frame.

but the enemy still lived. The enemy never dies… . The war was over.BHIMSEN 334 I looked down at hands that seemed suddenly drained of their strength.

walking in single file towards the river bank – absurdly young girls in the white robes that signaled the widow. as we watched the long line of people walking towards us. he waited in silence for her to utter the name. Subhadra and Balandhara walked behind them.BHIMSEN 335 Episode 68 I stood beside my brothers. heads down. a chill worked its way up from the soles of my feet to freeze my heart and numb the mind. their hair hanging loose and unbound. walked up to where the priest waited for us and stood with our heads bowed and hands folded in prayer. she too was dressed in sober white in memory of the five sons she had lost in one night of madness. supporting Uttara on either side. mentally preparing to pay our final dues to those the war had taken from us. in water that came up to our chest. mute testament to a war we had won — and lost. We stepped out of the river. “Your elder brother. Tears flowed down Uttara’s face. They came on. bewildered. Though she had no husband to mourn. Behind them walked valiyamma Gandhari. “When you honor the dead. with no sign of ornamentation. Draupadi came last. soothing — and yet. don’t forget the name of a hero who died fighting on the Kaurava side…” Arjuna looked at her. The brides of our sons came first. Someone had told us she was pregnant. her hand on my mother’s arm. Mother left Gandhari’s side and walked up to us. this long line of white-robed women. unchecked and unheeded. Yudhishtira must have had some inkling of what was coming – eyes fixed on hers. the one you know as Radheya…” . Ganga’s embrace was warm.

during the trial of strength. the brother I had never known. which I heard clearer than all the rest. he commanded. all that he deserves. “Karna.” I had taunted then… Karna. To the time outside the elephant paddock when he had stood there watching while Duryodhana and Dushasana attacked me…. one final prayer in Karna’s name…” Turning. The priest recited the mantras for the dead and named each person we had lost. half exclamation.BHIMSEN 336 “Karna?!” The word exploded from Arjuna. to his voice. the child I abandoned to hide my own shame… “I ask this of you in the name of one who never got his due in life – please. and shot an arrow into his throat… I killed my brother!” Arjuna crumpled to the ground. calling for rope so they could bind my hands and feet and throw me in the river… I was the one who had insulted him that day. half question. overwhelmed. And then he looked up. and let the water trickle out. my children. “What is this suta putra doing with a bow and arrow? Give him a whip — that is all he is fit for. Find Karna’s widow and his children. she walked back to her place beside Gandhari. “The child I bore when yet a maiden. I thought back to all those encounters. one handful of water. as if he had turned to stone. her tone even. several rushed forward. bring them here so they may stand with our women when we pay him our respects.” Mother’s face was impassive. in turn. For long moments Yudhishtira stood there silent. . we took a handful of water and offered it up to Ganga. and I saw the tears in his eyes. unmoving. “Kuntiputra Karna…” As Yudhishtira paid his respects. all those years. I tilted my palms. He clapped for an attendant. “I shot an arrow into his heart as he begged for life… I took deliberate aim while he lay there bleeding. In my mind I heard the echoes of my own mocking laughter.

and brought it safe to shore. with the same impassive calm. “Did you know?” To avoid replying. Hastily. with a hideous smile plastered on it. He couldn’t sleep. I had dreamt of this homecoming. On the way I passed Arjuna. walking with no aim. I walked into the main palace. seeking the solitude of my own quarters. fixed on him in entreaty. Now we were back. I had consoled myself with visions of the celebrations we would have when we finally won back our inheritance. behind shut doors the womenfolk mourned their dead. ************* We were now the masters of Hastinapura and yet. All those years in the jungle. I felt like a stranger. Today. heart-rending sob from an inner room stopped me in my tracks. As I penetrated deeper into the castle a single. that I could have stopped him from killing a brother with just a word? . I wrapped my arms around him in a hug. I retraced my steps and walked out of the palace. waiting for I don’t know what. he said — his nights were haunted by visions of Karna’s eyes. he had ‘practiced’ by smashing at it with his mace. At the entrance to what used to be Duryodhana’s palace I saw an enormous iron doll. cradled it. I thought. Duryodhana had constructed it to look like me and each morning. rocked it.BHIMSEN 337 So many years ago. How could I tell him I had known for some time. Ganga had taken the bundle in her arms. now dark and dismal. must be the statue Visokan had told me about – an iron contraption created by an engineer. The streets of Hastinapura were deserted. Dhritarashtra sat alone and unmoving. In the great hall. no direction. and there was no celebration. its body dented in several places. Its face. with hands that moved when levers were pulled. all through the war that followed. she accepted my tribute to that child she had nurtured so long ago. was a cruel mockery of mine. This. one of Ganga’s little daughters had accepted a bundle entrusted to it by a shamed maiden. an interloper. as I walked along the corridors of the palace.

princes born to rule. yet one who owed his kingdom not to the might of his arms but to the charity of his friend. I couldn’t bring myself to curse her either.” Yudhishtira was waiting for me in my chambers. yet lived his life a vassal. yet constantly reviled as a suta putra. We drank. But then I thought of my mother. Brought up a princess.BHIMSEN 338 He walked away. never accepted as an equal in the company of his fellow kings. I wouldn’t be able to forget either. he wore a crown. had been forced to wander the forests like outcasts while she survived on the goodwill of her youngest brother in law… No. I touched his feet. . I had spent enough time with the rishis of the forest to know what that meant – she would have cooked for him. cleaned for him. Yudhishtira looked after her as she walked away – she. more beautiful wife who clearly dominated the king’s affections. And then she had lost him. bathed him. so the rishi would be pleased and bless him with a son. too. I summoned a maid. and poured. without even a chance to say goodbye to her own mother. “I thought this was surely the one place I would find some sura…” I had never known him to drink in our presence. He was a king. her sons. of the life she had lived. without warning. a younger. and sat down opposite him. Of how he had lived his life with kshatriya blood in him. I will never be able to forget. given herself to him because how could she refuse? Marriage to a king must have seemed to her the escape she had prayed for so desperately during those lonely years of her lost childhood – and yet she found she had to share her impotent husband with another. he said – and I will never forgive her. if he so desired. No. waited on him hand and foot and even. She came. I thought of Karna. ****************** “I haven’t seen you since we returned to Hastinapura. cursing our mother. been handed over to a childless cousin of her father’s — who in turn had given her to a rishi for his personal maid. bore the signs of recent widowhood. she had one day.

who love each of you like my sons – I pledged you on a turn of the dice…” “Kshatriya dharma… you couldn’t refuse a challenge. All dead. their power will be neutralized… “But I lost!” . and here was me making his excuses for him.” “Why. and clapped his hands. “As long as our cousins ruled Hastinapura. his agitation manifest.” I told him. built it into the greatest kingdom of our time… we could have been so happy. voicing the thoughts I had bitten down on all these years. “It is done. When they invited me for that game I thought. they would have found one pretext or other for war. I could have gotten out of the game if I wanted to. my brothers. “Do you think. found it empty. this is what we won – a nation of widows!” My brother sighed. with our children around us …” “Our children. “I spent a lifetime trying to avoid war… I did things my wife. my son. “I could not refuse Duryodhana’s challenge. I had never seen him like this.” In some strange way. “It’s over. but it was not our cousin who played against me — and there is no dharma that says I have to accept a challenge by proxy. that they would have let us rule Indraprastha in peace?” He picked up the skin of sura.BHIMSEN 339 “So this is what we fought for. hated me for. so totally devoid of the calm selfcontrol that characterized him at all times. we could have gone back to Indraprastha. our cousins won’t be able to hurt us any more. What is the point in thinking of all that now?” My brother drank some more. I. in a game of dice.” he said. a self control that had at times maddened me almost beyond endurance. “Oh. this is our best chance – if we can win the kingdom without bloodshed. we seemed to have switched places — here was my brother. One day I will die — and there will be no one to do my last rites.” Yudhistira jumped up from his seat and paced the floor. then? We could have walked away.

in private. she knew it would be our own brother we would fight against… our brother we would be forced to kill… and she never said a word… “Mother!” He spat the word out. “Duryodhana refused. to let it go. like a curse – and abruptly. because I thought you would never agree – I knew none of you would agree. making sure you wouldn’t listen to me. I told him if he saw the slightest chance to make peace. anywhere… “But that woman! She must have known I didn’t want war – that is why she met Krishna and sent those messages to Draupadi. so we could live our lives in peace. each lost in our own thoughts. making sure there would be war! “And all that time. “I never told you this at the time. We could have lived somewhere – in Panchala. leaving me alone with my thoughts. or Dwaraka. “Remember when I sent Krishna as my final emissary. our brothers. heart-wrenching sound that bubbled up from some subterranean well of frustration.” He sighed – a sudden. walked out of the room. of sorrow. in the gathering dark. . he should tell Duryodhana we would even be prepared to accept five homes somewhere – one for each of us. to Arjuna and to you.BHIMSEN 340 We sat in silence. even Draupadi. with the message that we would accept five villages as our share? Later. fanning the flames of your anger.” Yudhishtira said. as I feared he would – but even so I would have somehow persuaded you.

Grant Morrison . I thought – though he was acknowledged the new king of Hastinapura. The four of us had busied ourselves with an exhaustive inventory of the treasury. Life had just begun to settle into a routine of sorts.” We looked at each other. Typical of my punctilious brother. the stocks of cattle and the state of the various trading and artisan communities — a review we were far from completing. I was wrong. and perched on a small stool beneath the dais.BHIMSEN 341 Episode 69 The throne Dhritarashtra had formally vacated loomed ahead of us as we sat discussing arrangements for our brother’s formal coronation. and I’ve taken a decision. and that left us extremely vulnerable to inimical kings or even to random raiding parties. “I’ve thought long and hard these last few days. mystified by the portentous note. As things stood we could hardly raise a single division. Yudhishtira had summoned us to the main hall of Hastinapura. Arjuna and I had taken on an added responsibility – that of figuring out how to quickly augment our dangerously depleted army. “I called you here because I wanted my brothers to be the first to know. He walked in while we were reviewing the list of friendly kings to invite.” Yudhishtira said. War -. he would not occupy the throne till he had been officially crowned.

no one will dare take advantage of this weakness…” I was compelled to interrupt. I have decided that our brother Bhima should be crowned king. we have been brought up to perform different functions. “No. to bring prosperity back to this kingdom. We fought this war to uphold your right to the throne. has been growing on me these last few days. and kshatriya dharma says the kingdom belongs to the victorious warrior. “Wherever I go – inside the palace.BHIMSEN 342 “Hastinapura is a nation without a heartbeat. If he is tormented.” “My child. Kshatriyas do not fight for themselves but for their king – and right from our days as children in the forest. that none of this would have happened if I had not insisted on my right to the throne. the feeling that all of this is my fault. I held up my hand. on the streets – all I see are widows. It is fitting – it was he who led us all along. The feeling of guilt.” Yudhishtira said. We need you to heal the wounds of war. “I have therefore decided to give up the throne and retire to the forest. “I don’t agree. where I will spend the rest of my life in penance and prayer. don’t say anything – my mind is made up.” He held up a hand to silence our protests. all I hear is the heart-rending sound of their sorrow.” . Nakula and Sahadeva are masters in the arts of administration. You speak of dharma – but how does dharma permit you to abandon this kingdom and its people at the time of greatest distress? I agree we are weak – but you have Arjuna and me to look after our security. Arjuna and I were brought up to wage war. and that is the welfare of his subjects. there is nothing further to discuss. I have agonized over what my dharma demands of me. there has been no doubt in our minds that you are our king. breaking in on my thoughts. Know this — to be effective a king has to focus on one thing alone. distracted by doubt as I am now. he can never make a good king. “No.” Yudhishtira made as if to speak. did I not tell you at the outset that my mind was made up? You more than anyone else know I do not make up my mind lightly – I have thought of all of this. From the time we were children. he who destroyed our enemies. he who won the war for us. let me finish. With Bhima on the throne and with Arjuna supporting him. and you alone among us have been trained to rule. “Hastinapura today is a dangerously weakened kingdom.

make sure he understands my decision and gets everything ready for your coronation. then who better than you?” I looked across at Nakula. and I agree — Hastinapura needs a king and if it is not Yudhishtira. unsure what we could do. it is not as if such things haven’t happened before — didn’t uncle Dhritarashtra step down in favor of our father? And when our father thought he was unable to govern. Nakula and Sahadeva followed. he stopped before me.BHIMSEN 343 He paced around the room. come to me. agitated. “there is nothing left to discuss. “And you – what do you think?” Nakula smiled. brother – we need a strong king now and there is none stronger.” He came up to me and bent low to touch my feet. You need time to absorb this. I hugged all three – an embrace that contained a world of doubt. I have to speak to our uncle Vidura. that his decision is final – so what is the point of discussion? He believes you are the best person to rule. You have no reason to worry – not when you have Nakula and Sahadeva to help you in the task of running the kingdom. so we’ll leave you alone now. . “our brother said his mind is made up. Abruptly. that you need time to think. “He is right.” Yudhishtira turned and strode out of the room. Our minds are made up. When your mind is made up. brother. “I know this has been sudden. what we could say.” Sahadeva cut in. while we looked at each other in silence. and me beside you to make sure Hastinapura is strong again …” “In any case. “Where is the need for me to say anything? Did you think I would have a different opinion from Arjuna and Sahadeva? Anyway. who as usual sat silent. and a surge of gratitude for their unquestioning support. didn’t he give the crown back to Dhritarashtra and retire to the forest?” “Listen. I will leave you now so you can discuss this with our brothers. more feared than you. Arjuna was the first to break the silence.” Arjuna said. of questions. listening to everyone but not venturing any opinion of his own.

I would rule – and with my brothers beside me. in my mind’s eye. Would I look majestic. learn from him all that I possibly could in the little time I had before he left for the forest. it would be me they would see on the legendary throne of the Kurus. when as a child I had first come to Hastinapura. and then I sat on the throne of my ancestors – gingerly at first. awe-inspiring figure. and I… I walked over to the dais and climbed up to the throne. My mind was made up. after the coronation. one without arms and the glittering paraphernalia of royalty. I jumped down from the dais and walked towards my own chambers. To its left was the smaller.BHIMSEN 344 I sat in the empty assembly hall. saw Draupadi seated there. have occupied as Yudhishtira’s heir. Nakula and Sahadeva would look after the details of the coronation – but what then? Our wealth of cattle had been depleted by the war – with our soldiers engaged and with no able-bodied men to look after them. the first thing I had seen when I entered this hall was uncle Dhritarashtra seated on this throne – an imposing. I would be a good king. would I evoke awe in our friends and fear in the emissaries of our enemies? I looked to my left and. flanked by the two giant tusks bound in gold and crusted with precious stones. All those years ago. and then more firmly. fair and just. From now on. My eyes fixed on the much smaller seat to the right of the throne – a seat set on a lower level of the dais. and more had been taken away by the small raiding parties that infested the surrounding . throne for the queen. I wondered. dispensing justice. In the center stood the throne of Hastinapura. large numbers of cattle had wandered off into the forest. ask his advice. but equally grand. That was my seat – the one I would. to my right. I looked all around to make sure I was truly alone. with a growing feeling of belonging. My doubts vanished. my mind in a whirl. listening to the sounds of their departing footsteps and gazing at the raised platform in front of me. I had to go to Yudhishtira and tell him my decision. her eyes on me as I sat in state. Now Arjuna would sit there.

and that reminds me there is the question of Indraprastha and Panchala to be decided. all the things we had done in Indraprastha to turn it into a bustling kingdom we would have to do all over again here. There was so much to do. was too big a security risk for us to take. metal and wood work. horses. my mind whirling with thoughts of all that I had to think of and do. we needed to replenish our paddocks and I’d have to find a way to free up Sahadeva’s time so he could visit some of the neighboring kingdoms. in one sense it would mean that everyone accepts our sovereignty and I could rule without the constant threat of war hanging over us but then again there was the risk that if we embarked on the Yaga it could give other kings an excuse to gang up against us at a time when we were not particularly strong. . get the breeding process started again and oh yes. what were we going to do with those kingdoms and I wonder if Arjuna had thought of Matsya now that Virat and his son were dead and Uttara was living under our protection. clear them of the raiders – to have them running amok. find talented artisans to set up silk industries. Nakula and Sahadeva needed to take stock — we could then figure out ways to consolidate our cattle. I must remember to order Arjuna to lead an expedition into those forests. unchecked. we had to urgently appoint regents who would rule the various kingdoms of our allies under our authority and oh yes I have to send a messenger to Krishna so when he comes for the coronation we can discuss this problem and decide on the right person and I needed to take my brother’s opinion as well before he went off into the forest and out of my reach oh and while on my brother I wonder if we should do the Ashwamedha. elephants. and almost missed the light tinkle of anklets that told me I was no longer alone.BHIMSEN 345 forests. I must ask Yudhishtira what he thinks of this… I walked on in a trance.

she had never done this for me or any of my other brothers until now. and that year in Matsya when I hid in the disguise of a maid. “So have you decided on the date of the coronation?” she asked.BHIMSEN 346 Draupadi -. “I heard. I always consoled myself with the thought that my time would come.” I said.Grant Morrison's visualization Draupadi walked out of the shadows and bent low to touch my feet. hiding my elation under an off-handedness I was far from feeling. but I am yet to make up my mind. She must have heard.” she said. “Yudhishtira has made some decisions.” To my surprise I saw a glint of tears in the eyes she raised briefly to meet mine before she looked down again. “All those years I slaved in the forest. “That is why I came. I thought – while she was always careful to greet Yudhishtira in this fashion.” Her voice throbbed with the .

to do for Balandhara what I did for Sudeshna?! Is that what you wish for me – me. a wealth of weariness. sister to Dhristadyumna. “So your brother wants to go to the forest to do penance?” It was mother.?” “What then? Would you have me live here instead as serving maid to your queen. . “Maybe it is my destiny to live always in the forest. to live always as a slave…” “Live in the forest?!” I exclaimed in surprise. and I’d dream of the day my husbands would win a kingdom for me and finally. leaving behind a long. wearing the deerskin and bark robes of vanaprastha… how had I overlooked this? The maids had not yet lit the lamps. unsure of what I must do. Sick at heart. daughter of Drupada. wife to the Pandavas?” “Balandhara…? But… it is you who will rule here beside me. then I must go too. “I would remember Krishna’s promise that he would one day see me seated on the throne of Hastinapura. her robe pulled over her head to cover her face. “But why. I needed to be alone… I needed to think… Balandhara my queen… Draupadi in the forest. shuddering sob that bounced off the walls and echoed down the corridor.. I would be the queen I was born to be…” She sighed.BHIMSEN 347 weight of unshed tears. I hurried to my chambers. on the throne of Hastinapura …” “Fat fool. In the gloom. “I was married first to Yudhishtira – it is he who has the first claim on me and if he goes into the forest. Panchali. I saw two figures waiting for me – uncle Vidura and behind him a woman. of helplessness in the sound. even if I am too young for vanaprastha. even if my mind and heart are not ready yet. they call you – and fat fool you are!” The scorn in her voice scoured me like a whip. not prepared yet to turn my back on life…” Abruptly she turned and vanished into the shadows.

waiting. “And they have been waiting ever since for the day Yudhishtira will be crowned their king. It is not just me. of righteousness. silent. but he seems to have made up his mind. “Do you remember the day I brought you children here. this notion of me – what is it you always called me.” I stood there.” Vidura smiled in sudden relief. waiting for their first glimpse of the prince who was born to rule them. for the very first time? The people thronged the streets in their thousands then. you have my word. “don’t you know my brother yet? Don’t you know it is just his sense of humor at work. fat fool? – as king of Hastinapura? Did you think he was serious?! Don’t worry – Yudhishtira will sit on the throne. You are untrained in the shastras. She had clearly come for a purpose – and she would get around to telling me about it in her own way. They have lost everything they had – and now they will lose the one hope that has sustained them all these years…” I felt the sudden sharp sting of tears. “God bless you. child – your uncle also thinks as I do. mother?” “Your brother must become king. “What do you want me to do. the day the rule of dharma.” I gasped. in dharma shastra and rajya shastra – you are not fit to rule. “The people of Hastinapura have lost everything. fighting back the haze that clouded my mind. uproariously. slapping my thighs and drumming my feet on the floor. and ground my nails into my palms – a physical pain to take away the sudden sharp agony in my heart as I realized what she had come here to say. to the gates of Hastinapura. Go to your brother and tell him that – tell him that under no circumstances will you sit on the throne.BHIMSEN 348 “I heard he has decided on vanaprastha – uncle Vidura did his best to persuade him against it. my child – and now they are about to suffer their biggest loss. And then I laughed – loudly. child. . will be established in Hastinapura. I sank down on a seat and laughed still.” I took a deep breath. flowers in their hands.” he said as he turned and walked away. “Mother.

I was Bhima. Alone in the dark. the mightiest warrior of my time. .BHIMSEN 349 Mother eyes were shadowed with doubt. And I laughed. I thought of that brief moment in the great hall of Hastinapura when I had sat on the throne of Hastinapura — that one fleeing moment when I was king. loud and long. I would not cry. but then she too touched my head in benediction and walked out after my uncle.

a black cow with a streak of white on its back. came last. Our brother only insisted that there could be no skimping in making the prescribed offerings: gold for the commander of our armies. Only Krishna and Satyaki had accepted our invitation to attend. with Draupadi beside him. Balandhara and me. Yudhishtira. to whom we had sent a formal message. a pregnant cow for Draupadi. he would have had to send her a sickly black cow as gift?!” Once the prescribed gifts had been handed out.BHIMSEN 350 Episode 70 The coronation was a very subdued affair – it would. who was in charge of everything to do with the coronation. an ivory board and coins for the resident chaturanga player. Yudhishtira had to do a tour of the city and meet with his subjects. Behind us walked the guests of honor. a yellow and red turban and a bag of silver coins for the chief messenger… It was an endless list. was among those who stayed away — instead. “I didn’t know half of these. Yudhishtira presented each of us with . it was the turn of us brothers to be recognized and honored. bulls for the palace gardener and his assistants. with the responsibility of listening to any citizen with a grievance. Yudhishtira warned us. “The things kshatriyas have to learn about! Did you know that if our brother had an abandoned wife. cataloging the problems that were brought to our notice and at the appropriate time. a horse for the suta who was named chief balladeer. bringing it to the king’s attention. When we finally returned to the palace. two bulls for the king’s personal charioteer. for the chief priest. be in bad taste to organize lavish celebrations at a time when the people were in considerable distress. a minister from the Kasi court arrived with gifts for Yudhishtira. a curved silver knife and red head-dress for the chief huntsman. Uncle Vidura.” Sahadeva whispered to me at one point as Yudhishtira reeled off names and appropriate gifts. the queen. stopping often to talk to the people who had lined the streets. and the chief priest led the procession. Senesan. We brothers walked behind them.

BHIMSEN 351 the ornaments and armor of a kshatriya. Yamuna and Saraswati mixed with the urine of a pregnant cow. for the very first time. And then he ascended the throne. Therefore. It was time for the king’s first formal proclamations. In my turn. then the commander of the army and various other senior members of the king’s entourage.” “Maybe in the kingdoms of our allies. The next stage was when Yudhishtira took me by the hand and led me to the small seat set to his right. Traditionally. then the other members of the family in order of seniority starting with uncle Dhritarashtra. with only the chief priest and Yudhishtira anointing me. and memories of war grew ever more distant. There was no room there for Balandhara. they told us it wasn’t a pretty picture. who stood with the rest of our women. whose sentences would be commuted – but Hastinapura’s prisons had been emptied by Duryodhana. from Kasi. watching.” Sahadeva pointed out. “We need to bring in young people from Panchala. we cannot revive these industries and start new ones… it is difficult to know where to start looking for a solution. valiyamma Gandhari and so on. “The problem goes around in a circle. at a slightly lower level on the dais. “Our industries are at a standstill because the able-bodied young men are all dead. we had to go up on the dais and anoint him. Yudhishtira summoned us one morning to discuss the depleted state of our treasury. In the order established by tradition. who had armed them and sent them to die on the battle field. uncle Vidura. all made specifically for the occasion and blessed formally by the chief priest. Nakula and Sahadeva had completed their inventory. Life settled into a routine. First the priests and invited Brahmins.” Nakula said. and poured it over his head. I was formally installed as the Yuvaraja – a much shorter ceremony. Matsya… the . then mother. and as we waited for the king to join us. I dipped the conch into the large golden bowl filled with water from the Ganga. then the guests of honor. this took the form of relief for the more deserving of prisoners. we have no money coming into the treasury — and without money.

we spend our days all alone. doesn’t our uncle know this?” Sahadeva was agitated.” he added. so I didn’t drink any of it. “I don’t know. And.” valiyamma said. it was in a state of perturbation.BHIMSEN 352 promise of a bright future under our brother is the best incentive we have to offer. and found uncle Dhritarashtra and valiyamma Gandhari seated there. Dushasana’s blood gushed up and wetted my lips. “Nowadays. and making his life miserable.” our brother the king ordered. “Sit down. my son.” When Yudhishtira finally came to the hall. uncle wants to retire to the forest after the ceremony – he says he cannot find peace here. “Who is that?” “It is I – Bhima. his grip suddenly tightening. “Besides.” Trust the old man to take one incident and convert it into a big drama. rested lightly on my shoulder. I thought to myself. and went up to touch their feet. “But was it necessary to drink the blood of my son?” “When I smashed his chest. It is up to you and Nakula to figure out a way. “Killing and dying are an inevitable part of war. . I walked away. with a darkling glance in my direction.” I said.” I said. sit with us for a while. the one where the dice game had been staged. off-handedly. all alone. Dhritarashtra’s hand reached out.” he said. “it seems some people have been taunting him ever since the war ended.” he told Sahadeva.” I sat at their feet. no one comes to see us. child. “Uncle Dhritarashtra wants to offer prayers and give away alms in memory of the dead – you have to make the necessary arrangements immediately.” Detaching his grip on my shoulder. somehow — we cannot refuse our uncle’s request. and there can be no stint. I had wandered into the large assembly hall one afternoon. “Gold and cows for a thousand Brahmins… alms and food to all who come and ask for it… the expense of conducting theyaga… where are we supposed to find the funds for all this? Hastinapura is bankrupt. “It didn’t taste good.

” ********* The yaga was grand. Yudhishtira rushed up just then. when we asked for five villages as our share of the inheritance. getting the chariots ready and packing onto a half dozen bullock carts everything they would need to live in some degree of comfort in the forest. and the last alms-seeker duly satisfied. Once he had played his part in overseeing Yudhishtira’s coronation. no formal role to play. he had time and again acceded to and even egged on Duryodhana as he schemed to bring about our downfall. Servitors bustled around. Even at the very end. and that was when we heard that uncle Vidura had decided to accompany them. .BHIMSEN 353 It is not that I minded their presence – it was a large palace. he could have exercised his authority to grant our request. I tended to avoid the old man as much as possible. and playing the victim to the hilt. it was this old man who was responsible for the war – for all his pretense. and thus avoided the war. made my blood boil – though in deference to Yudhishtira’s sensibilities. there really was nothing for him to do in Hastinapura. and provided for an event far more elaborate than our brother’s coronation. we will never be able to put the events of the past entirely behind us. Sahadeva and Nakula accomplished miracles.” I said. “Let them perform the yaga and retire to the forest if that is what they want to do. in a state of considerable distress. To see him now wandering the halls. When the last Brahmin had been fed. I wasn’t particularly surprised – for years now. one of several in the courtyard. “Mother has decided to accompany them to the forest. I shrugged. and there was room enough for all.” he announced. “As long as they are in our midst. his life had been that of a grihastha in name alone. sighing heavily whenever he heard footsteps approach. The palace servants and the more elderly Brahmins gathered in the courtyard to give the old couple a send off. But I could never rid myself of the thought that more than anyone else. the old couple prepared to remove to the forest.

BHIMSEN 354 “I’ve just spent the last hour trying to get her to change her mind. and walked back to the courtyard. “Go. “What is it you lack here? When we were confused. “What nonsense!”. let her go. and as a mother the one thing I desired more than any other was to see my children settled in their inheritance. You are kshatriyas. shaking their heads.” Nakula and Sahadeva seemed more disturbed by the news. why then did you push us to fight for the kingdom? Why did we shed all this blood. and to rule the kingdom you have won is your dharma now. “She loves drama.” I knew mother well enough to realize there was no point in arguing with her. his voice harsh. on the rare occasions when she came up in course of our conversations.” I found mother in her chambers. weary from all those years in the forest. to see their fame spread far and wide. responded with a bitterness he took no pains to conceal. My life is over – I have done all I can for my children. I turned.” Yudhishtira told me. my own dharma now is to do all I can for your uncle and aunt in their last days. he had deliberately avoided mother and. but she is adamant. when we wished to avoid war. create this kingdom of widows?” “Because I am a mother. “Now what?” I asked her. “There is no need for my children to feel sad – rule in peace. child. Ever since that day on the banks of the Ganga. as the Queen Mother?!” They went off to try and persuade her and soon returned. with Draupadi and my other daughters beside you. these trials. . the sons of a king – to fight for your right was your dharma then. why does she want to go into the forest when she should be living here in comfort. you were the one who stiffened our resolve.” Arjuna said. “Maybe she will listen to you. Sahadeva said. my child. and takes a special delight in surprising us. “If life in the forest was all that you desired. giving some last minute instructions to her maid.” “Oh. “After all these years.

Draupadi walked back towards us. The whips cracked. They walked towards the chariot. They talked for a long time. the chariots moved out of the courtyard and drove slowly through the street. mother turned to where we stood and beckoned to Draupadi. tears streaming down her face. Once she had helped valiyamma into the chariot. her hand on mother’s shoulder. passing us without even a glance. I saw my mother fold Draupadi in a hug – a gesture as surprising as anything she had ever done. . Valiyamma emerged from the palace. We stood there for a very long time.BHIMSEN 355 Leading him by the hand. watching this last link with the past fade into the distance and feeling within us the enormous weight of an uncertain future. uncle Vidura helped Dhritarashtra climb into the first chariot.

I led a small band of our troops and a large group of wood workers in the task. great-grandfather Krishna Dwaipayana had also joined them. I was angry — I said things I shouldn’t have… harsh things. later that evening. on why we do the things we do and whether it is all part of pre-destiny or did we have any choice in the matter… Yudhishtira sighed when.” he suggested. we had a long talk. to tell her I understand things better now…” . the workers cut down the trees they needed for constructing the cattle sheds and adjoining buildings. I need to see her again. and burnt the rest. “And we could try once more to persuade mother to come back with us.BHIMSEN 356 Episode 71 A chance meeting with two wandering rishis gave me the first news we had of our mother. child. to apologize. he said. Dhritarashtra. they said. The rishis wandered up while I was working with two elephants to haul away an enormous tree we had just felled. see how they are doing. Sahadeva wanted to create an enormous central cattle shed well away from the town and concentrate all our herds there – easier to protect and to focus on the breeding.” Sahadevan suggested. inquire into their well-being. A large number of rishis.” he said. the kind of things no son should tell a mother. had them towed by elephants. elderly Brahmins and sages had made their home in the vicinity. Yudhishtira shook his head. The troops stayed alert against the chance that we might encounter militant tribals sheltering in the woods. Our uncle. “She won’t ever come back. “It’s been so long — maybe we should go. Gandhari and our mother spent their mornings in prayer and penance and their afternoons and evenings in intense discussions on karma and dharma. I recounted my conversation with the rishis. aunt and mother were doing well. I was supervising the clearing of a large tract of forest on the outskirts of Hastinapura. that day when she first told me she was going into the forest. “But… you know.

“He is in the forest not very far from here. what if there was some sudden emergency and no one here to deal with it? He had over time reconciled to the war. immersed in intense penance. touring the kingdoms south of the Vindhyas. Yudhishtira was so entranced by their performance he showered gifts on them. groups of artisans would come to Hastinapura with messages from him – stone workers. following the directions the rishis had given me. I am grateful you came to see me. Every once in a while. But his anger towards our mother still smoldered deep within him. master jewelers who could work in gold and precious stones. they said. “My child. Draupadi installed them in one of them outbuildings within the palace compound and persuaded them to teach the younger maids and the daughters of the townsfolk. painters. a group of dancers came to our court.” . Sahadeva and I. and had plunged into the task f recruiting and training fresh soldiers for our army.” he told me as he laid his hand on my head in a gesture that was both benediction and caress.” our grandsire. tears streamed from those sightless eyes as he blessed each one of us. experts in the design and construction of weapons… One day. like live coals under ash. Mother said nothing. watching and listening with a smile on her face as uncle Dhritarashtra asked about how the kingdom was faring. master carvers.BHIMSEN 357 We set out early next morning. and there seemed no point trying to persuade him to join us. It was late in the afternoon when. Nakula was away at the time. “He left the ashram several months ago. They were adepts at a form of dance that. wood workers. had been first created by the founder of our race. Yudhishtira. to those we had killed and those we had lost. Arjuna opted to stay behind — someone had to. he argued. we arrived at the ashram. said. Bharata. It was quite a while before Yudhishtira finally managed to detach himself from Dhritarashtra and got a chance to ask after uncle Vidura. She sat beside aunt Gandhari. He had been gone for some months now. and gave Yudhishtira advice on various matters of statecraft. who was seated next to mother. Uncle Dhritarashtra made no attempt to hide his happiness as we paid due obeisance.

We didn’t immediately recognize the man who lay stretched out on the ground under its shade. “there is nothing in this for you to get upset or angry about. then fell back at his side. He looked up at me.” I raced through the forest. “I had known for a long time that King Pandu was not our father but it is only that evening. Fashioning a little cup out of a lotus leaf. I went with him while Sahadeva stayed behind to talk to mother. labored. “I had meant to tell you this before. child. until I burst into a clearing beside a small lake. heedless of the brambles that scoured my skin. Uncle Vidura’s hand rose weakly in a vague gesture of benediction. and found him sitting beside the still form of uncle Vidura. when mother told me she was leaving us. and smiled wryly. His lips moved. he wet uncle Vidura’s lips and then his own. I carried the water back to where I had left my brother.” I stared at my brother in stunned silence.” he said. walked away in the direction of the ashram. but somehow the time never seemed right. seemingly in a trance. I touched him lightly on the shoulder. Our father was impotent.” . I think his time has come. you know that – and the practice of niyoga.” Yudhishtira said. fetch some water. Taking the water from my hands. He seemed not to be aware that I had returned.BHIMSEN 358 Yudhishtira decided to seek him out. unkempt beard covered all of his face except his eyes. It was only when the ashram came in sight that he stopped and turned to me. his breathing came slow. A wild. is common among us kshtriyas. “Quick. Yudhishtira bent close to listen. I followed. “No. We walked a long way into the forest until finally we came upon a gigantic peepul tree. sighed and. of our women accepting other men in order to produce children. Yudhishtira exclaimed in shock and rushed to prostrate himself.” he said. staring off into the distance. that I learnt who my real father was.” he said. “He is gone. his ash-covered skin hung loose on a skeletal frame. He shook his head. “Vidura was my father – my real father. child. “Child. or to blame our mother for.

his slave… there was no one I could talk to. Her voice. I watched him go. “Go home. he will need my help. what is the word I must use to refer to the father of my brother? I did not know how long I lay there.” she said. I should go… but is he my ‘uncle’?… what is Vidura to me. my brother. his son. then turned and wandered aimlessly into the forest till I came to a little stream. He noticed. long time. She was silent for a long. I drank deep. and maybe it just my fancy. Yudhishtira… Bhima… Arjuna… Nakula… Sahadeva… sons of Pandu.” she said gently. I sat up abruptly. gentle tones – or so it seemed to me – of a young girl… “Your brother Karna – he really was the son of a charioteer. The light touch of a hand brushing away my tears startled me. the balladeers called us. emotionless tones I was so used to but the soft. a suta. tell me who we are. “He was the son of Kuntibhoja’s charioteer… young… handsome… glowing like the sun… “It was a hard life. when she finally spoke. no reason for tears — go in peace. Thoughts whirled through my mind like dead leaves in the evening breeze. splashed cold water on my face and body. tell me who I really am…” Mother sighed.” “Peace?!” I jumped to my feet and stood looking down at her. startled me: it was not the harsh. listening to the gentle murmur of the water and the soft rustle of the wind in the trees. trying and failing to work up the will to get up. There is nothing here to sadden you. “Your brothers have left. and found mother beside me in the gathering dark. eyes closed. committed enough crimes… At least now. children of a crowned king and rightful heirs to his kingdom… uncle Vidura is dead. the Pandavas. He was the only one who noticed my . no one to share my pain – except him. “Mother – please… I have made enough mistakes. and stretched out on the grass by the stream. my child. those years I spent as Durvasa’s servant.BHIMSEN 359 He walked towards the ashram. to go find my brothers. It was too dark to see. I lay there for a long time. has a funeral to arrange. but I thought she was smiling.

though I knew different – I had already had a child and. handsome like a god… “And then…” Mother’s voice became thin. to take me to Hastinapura – he was so tall. When he came to see me. that he was impotent. that dearest child of mine who today cannot bring himself to look me in the face — how many women has he married and bedded and left behind full with child. he said when he came to tell us he had decided to go into the forest. without a thought. Look at Arjuna. when grief overwhelmed me. “He loved me. weeping. “Mother…?” “It took a while for the king to realize the problem was with him. inauspicious…” The silence stretched interminably. he told me. I was overjoyed – finally. your cheriyamma. he spoke to me. the son who would inherit the kingdom… and then. No one could know. reedy.BHIMSEN 360 suffering. at first. while we were away from the kingdom — the succession needed to be secured. he told us. but the most famous king of the time. over time he began coming to me less and less. He tried. We must get children. without a backward glance?” . so strong. he listened and when I couldn’t bear it any more. in my shame. Look at you with Hidimbi. “When Kuntibhoja told me I was to marry Pandu of Hastinapura. with Balandhara…. my years of slavery were coming to an end. to tell me my husband had gone to Madra to marry… She was so beautiful. abandoned him in the river… “And then one day my maid came to me. drenched in tears. we spoke of the child that would be born to us. “It is the fate of the Kuru women. Madri… I watched while they greeted her at the palace gates with the traditional aarti – I should have been the one doing that. he held me and let me cry…” Mother seemed lost in the labyrinth of memories. my son – to the men of Hastinapura we are nothing but a vessel for bearing heirs. I was to marry a king – not just any king. until I felt I would burst. in many little ways. to help ease my burden. It was all my fault. but — I was in their eyes a barren woman.

chest heaving with a sadness without end. like Vayu. When she spoke again. I prayed with all my heart. sheltering from the storm. walked away from me and stood on the banks of the stream. For many many days and nights. I used to think as I bathed in the Ganga each morning. “He burst from the trees like a whirlwind… this tribal. compassionate. his smell on me and his seed in me…” Obeying some impulse I did not understand. the god of Dharma and of Death…” “And I. One day I wandered deep into the forest. I inched closer to where she stood. “I prayed. “The king was besotted with your cheriyamma. with Madri who I called my younger sister. unshakeable in his loyalty… someone. looking out into the darkness. just. of Yama. tall and dark and powerful beyond belief… he came upon me as I cowered beneath a tree. At some point in the night. to see the approach of the storm till it burst around me in all its fury. She was gone. There was nothing for me in that lodge once my work for the day was done. any excuse that kept me away from them. painfully.” Afraid to break the spell with some sudden movement. schooled in the ways of dharma. I fell at mother’s feet and lay there for an eternity. I took to spending all my time in the forest looking for flowers. “A king needs someone at his side he can trust with his life. In your father’s brother I found just such a man – the incarnation of all that was good and just. he left me there in the mud. it was a whisper in the wind. mother? Who was my father?” Slowly. . I took him to my bed and Yudhishtira was born – the son. herbs – anything. I sat up and looked around. I told Pandu. afraid to miss a word. too lost in thought to notice the skies darkening. she rose to her feet. and without a word he grabbed me and he threw me down on the ground and he took me and when he was done with me.BHIMSEN 361 “My eldest child would be born to rule — and a king has above all to be wise. the god who wanders the earth with the seven winds on a leash. someone strong beyond belief.

BHIMSEN 362 Bhimsen: Epilogue They stood on top of a cliff and looked down at an ocean turned dark and deadly dangerous. continued to throw up waves that combed the land. seeking odds and ends to devour. What was it the patriarch. over there an overturned chariot. Yudhishtira shivered internally as he looked down at that once proud kingdom reduced to an overturned chariot. the final journey that would lead them to heaven or to hell as their deeds deserved? “Never look back. an earthen pot in pristine condition. elsewhere. and not in the mind – from this moment on you have no past. and the next. They saw a dead bull lying where the waves had thrown it against a tree. .” Out of the corner of his eye. He shook his head. and set out on the mahaprasthana. his head in his hands. a few decaying bodies the ravenous ocean had overlooked. Yudhishtira caught sight of Arjuna perched on a rock. breaking its back instantly. oddly. had said when they had formally handed the throne of Hastinapura to Parikshit. Like a glutton who even after a full meal picks at his plate in the hope of finding some overlooked morsel. They observed another oddity: in the midst of the ocean’s turbulence one spot alone seemed calm. the waters still. Krishna Dwaipayana. marked where the towering castle had once stood. they guessed. its perfection an incongruous element of normalcy against the surrounding chaos. a pot. fighting to clear the cloud of grief. the ocean that had swallowed an entire kingdom.” the patriarch had advised them. castle and all. his shoulders shaking with the strength of his grief – a grief time had not been able to mitigate. There is only the step ahead that you must take. with its vaulted Dome of Victory thrusting proud into the heavens. “Not physically. grandson of Arjuna and beloved of them all. That. its shaft stuck deep into the mud. and the next one. In spite of his iron self-control.

Krishna’s dearest friend had come to their aid. Arjuna had not been able to reconcile with the fact that his dearest friend was no more. “We will go to Hastinapura. Around them were the sights and sounds of impending doom: the roar of an ocean whipping itself into a consuming fury. the screeching of the kites and vultures that circled overhead in such numbers as to turn the sky dark – birds of prey that had gorged on the flesh of Dwaraka’s men and. and nothing bad could happen to them now. hovered in search of more fodder. Arjuna forced aside his own grief at the destruction of the Yadava and Vrishni clans and worked to calm their fears. He knew many of them.” He organized them into a group and marched at their head down the broad streets of Dwaraka. even bedded some of the more attractive among them. hungry still. pleading for his protection. there was no able-bodied male left to help him in that task. Arjuna put him on a horse and sent him away to Hastinapura with a message for Bhima: “Come quick. One young boy had survived the general carnage. the howls of the jackals that stalked the streets of Dwaraka in broad daylight.” he promised them. the women of Dwaraka. or maybe because of it. They rushed to him. women of Krishna’s personal household. “No harm will come to you there. the others called out his name and reached their hands towards him.BHIMSEN 363 He had been present when the destruction had begun and yet. There was no time to waste gathering provisions for the trek. they consoled each other. The closest clutched at him. in response to the urgent summons. They had greeted him with cries of relief when. that the gardens in which he had first seen Subhadra and wooed her was now buried deep beneath the pitch black waters of the unforgiving ocean. clamoring for his attention. He had on his numerous visits sported with them in Dwaraka’s gardens. The mightiest archer of the time was here. brother — I need help!” . that the kingdom that had been a second home to him had vanished as if it had been a figment of his imagination. Arjuna had first rushed to Dwaraka. These sights and sounds paralyzed them with a fear beyond imagining – but still they took heart: Arjuna was here.

threw them over their shoulders and raced away in the direction of the forest. trying without success to shut his ears to the horrific sounds coming from the forest – the triumphant roars of the Dasyus mixed with the despairing wails of women stripped successively of their modesty and their lives. now quiet from a mixture of relief and exhaustion. an arrow notched to bowstring and a full quiver at his back. it was all he could do to pick it up and when he finally managed. He felt a lassitude in his limbs and a fog enveloping his mind. Around him in a rising crescendo rose the screams of Krishna’s women as the Dasyus grabbed them. swallowing everything it found in its path and returning. When he reached for a fresh arrow. he looked at it as if he did not know what to do with this strange curved object in his hand. his will – now. He marched on and behind him. next to the bow and the arrows that he was no longer master of. Arjuna calmly lifted the Gandiva – and experienced a moment of stark terror when the bow slid out of his suddenly nerveless hand and thudded to the ground at his feet. Arjuna slumped to the ground in despair. He bent to pick it up and found that it was all he could to raise the bow: his strength seemed to have deserted him. his eyes unfocused and mind blank. the Gandiva had been an extension of his hand. he merely managed to knock the quiver off his back. for more. and his skill. Arjuna marched out of the towering main gate of the ‘Kingdom of Gates’. . At some point in the night. He lay there through that darkest of nights. walked the women. All these years. their roars met by shrieks of fear from the women. with redoubled fury. but put it down as a reaction to the strain of his desperate rush to Dwaraka. He lay there in the grip of a terror unlike any he had ever known. and headed towards the forest. Without warning the Dasyus burst out of the trees.BHIMSEN 364 With the Gandiva in his hand. another sound intruded on his consciousness: the growing roar of an ocean that had burst its natural boundaries and commenced its assault on Dwaraka. with its embellishments of brightly colored peacocks and dancing girls.

Meticulously he had set aside his ornaments. He had taken care to wake well before dawn each day. And so he cried through that long night: bitter tears for the friend he had lost. he had wandered in the direction of Dwaraka and recoiled from the unbelievable destruction. No more could be rely on finding beside him a source of strength when he was weak. He recalled the one time he had visited Krishna’s kingdom. And he cried for himself – the greatest warrior of his time. Today he no longer had that friend. stepped out of his robes and tied his loin cloth around his waist in that special fashion peculiar to wrestlers and adepts of hand to hand combat. The ocean in its mindless fury had destroyed the once proud kingdom brick by brick. tied up his hair. and keep him grounded when the world as he knew it appeared to be shifting beneath his feet. and when the messenger had come to Hastinapura he had been overjoyed. such an enveloping sense of despair.BHIMSEN 365 He had never felt such grief. Bhima had lavished on Arjuna the attention a nurse bestows on a sick child. he had a friend who walked beside him. the now useless bow and arrows inert beside him. his eyes fixed on a ground where the blood of his children had mingled with that of his enemies. was returning for more. Duryodhana was already in residence. no longer could he take refuge in the encompassing wisdom that could make sense out of the seemingly senseless. and hurried to the arena. . learning the arts of the mace from Balarama. while his brother slept. That was how Bhima had found him sometime the next afternoon: prone on the ground. But then that day. ever before – not even when on the morning after the war he had walked field of Kurukshetra. even as he watched from his vantage point. that to kill and to die were inextricable parts of Life itself. Krishna had urged his brother to invite him too. for the women who had trusted him and who had paid for their trust with their honor and their lives. now reduced to the eunuch he had once pretended to be. it had swallowed large parts of Dwaraka and. reminding him that to fight was a kshatriya’s duty. his face ravaged with grief and his body devoid of strength to even stand up.

had chanced upon Kritavarma and charged him with cowardice. grief-stricken at the death of his brother and the destruction of his race. At some point in the celebration Satyaki. He practiced religiously all that he was taught and yet. The only memory he retained from that time was of Dwaraka’s blinding wealth. Krishna had organized a massive ‘celebration’ on the shore of the ocean. when a passing hunter mistook him for a deer and shot him dead. fed up of the growing corruption and decay of the kingdom he had carved out of nothingness. Krishna was meditating under a tree.BHIMSEN 366 Each day. Bhima stood beside Yudhishtira. considerably the worse for drink. he had hoped that his guru would impart the secrets that. The argument led to blows and then to a full-fledged battle with swords. Balarama had slipped into a yogic trance and given up his life. and thought: had Krishna known how it would all turn out? Had he. None survived. he struggled not to show the disappointment he felt at having learnt very little that was new. Kritavarma reminded him. looking out over the waters that had swallowed Dwaraka whole. its pomp and unrivalled splendor. the Vrishnis had taken up for Satyaki and the Yadavas rushed to the defense of Kritavarma. a wandering rishi had come to court with news that Krishna and Balarama were dead. deliberately sent the Yadavas and the Vrishnis to their deaths? From what they had been able to pierce together from the accounts of two or three survivors. reminding him that he was on his knees before Burisravas and begging for his life when his friend Arjuna had cut off his enemy’s arm – and Satyaki had then. had left them to it and walked away into the forest with his brother Balarama. . in a trice. when time came for him to leave. Sukracharya had once told him. were known only to Balarama himself. jumped up and cut off the head of the helpless Burisravas. the rishi told them. Even as they pieced the story together and tried to make sense of it all. He had provided limitless food and drink and when the revelry was at its rowdiest. An enraged Kritavarma had in his turn taunted Satyaki. accusing him of his role in killing the sleeping Pandava children and others on the 18th night of Kurukshetra.

began walking down the hill. What was left? She turned her back on the ocean. Bhima followed. one life for another. we have endured more grief than any one human could possibly bear. turning abruptly. and walked after his brothers. all. one dawn. the unfailing source of comfort at the darkest of times. this life where we have known very many griefs and very few joys. Her heart still grieved for the one who was gone – Krishna. and walked down the hill. picking up the trail. more even than her husbands. eating the berries and fruits they foraged during their trek and marching ahead again. the will.BHIMSEN 367 Enough. to walk in their wake. their hearts devoid of feeling. watching them go and summoning up the strength. He was gone. honor. their weary feet plodding one step at a time through increasingly difficult terrain — until. Nakula sighed and glanced at his twin. picking up his pace. their minds absent of thought. Enough! He felt his brother’s calming touch on his shoulder. he hurried in that direction without a backward glance at his brothers and wife struggling along in . had kept her faith alive when all had seemed lost: kingdom. stopping when the need for rest overwhelmed them. “No more tears. Bhima – we have put all that behind us. the one who more than any other. The sight of Mount Meru in the distance seemed to give Yudhishtira renewed energy. pride. Come!” Yudhishtira glanced out at the ocean for one last time and then. who had been her strength when she most needed it. For days without end they walked on in single file. Bhima thought – we have lived through several lifetimes in this one. Remember what Krishna once told us? Nothing ever dies – we merely change one form for another. with one mind. Draupadi stood under the shade of a tree. they saw looming ahead of them the snow-crowned peaks of the Himalayas. Arjuna pushed himself up from the rock he had slumped on. The time has come to give up this body. dignity. the twins walked in the direction their elders had taken.

” Yudhishtira neither turned around. this princess. “Draupadi has fallen. to attain salvation. out of ambition – she wanted to keep our desire for revenge alive. do . “Brother. followed us to our hovel. sublimated his will to that of his brother. to see how Draupadi was faring – always. through the long years they had spent in the forest. And when he got to the foot of Meru he began to climb. Now. Behind him. so he needs must follow to whatever end awaited them on the mountain top. She long ago lost the strength of mind to climb away from this world and into salvation. “What?! She. she married us. scouring his palms when he pushed them aside. Even when his instincts suggested a different path. Bhima trudged on mindlessly. at its peak. it was on him that her eyes were fixed. the clatter of displaced rocks as they bounced away down the mountainside. wait!” Bhima shouted. And then he heard it – a faint cry. “I am not surprised. Once. when escaping from Varanavata. ignoring the rocks that cut into his feet and the thorny bushes that impeded his progress. he could do no less – Yudhishitra led. Throughout his life.” Yudhishtira’s voice came faintly to Bhim as he marched relentlessly on. she partook of our troubles when she could have gone back. “And above all. he had followed in that brother’s footsteps. in the final moments of his life. But not this time – this time he would climb the mountain on his own and. she was wife to all five of us. he had brushed such thoughts aside. it had been his self-imposed duty to smooth her path. led a life of ease in the home of her father…” “She followed us out of self interest.BHIMSEN 368 his wake. nor paused in his steady climb. the sound of a body falling. Those who fall. find in himself the will to slip into yoga nidra. he had struggled to climb a little hill and had to be carried on Bhima’s shoulders.” Bhima froze in his tracks. his eyes fixed on the peak. she wanted us to fight and win a kingdom for her. With an effort of will he kept his eyes focused on the path ahead and on the form of his elder brother climbing rapidly up the slope. but it was only Arjuna she loved – even when she sat beside me on the throne. He was tempted to turn back.

and walked on. “Draupadi has fallen. and readied to take Draupadi from him – but the footsteps were strong. Moments later. Any moment now. Arjuna drew abreast. then walked on ahead without even a glance in his direction. He heard Sahadeva’s footsteps approach. somewhere down below. he saw the crumpled form of Draupadi. Arjuna. To this youngest of the brothers Draupadi had been wife and mother both. the wife he had loved above all else in this world lay where she had fallen. watching the forms of his brother’s vanishing in the mists up ahead. Abruptly. Sahadeva would not leave her lying where she had fallen. Bhima stood where he was. Draupadi’s beloved. He ran.” “We cannot turn back.” Bhima said. his eyes fixed on the path ahead. steady. carrying Draupadi in his arms. He made his choice. . she had reserved for him a special place in her affections – surely. Bhima thought. He saw Nakula passing him to the left. Somewhere up there. Ahead of him. Arjuna walked on as if he had not heard. “Draupadi has fallen. Sahadeva drew abreast. half hidden by a thorny bush.” he muttered. Bhima craned his neck back and looked up at the tip of the mountain. salvation waited. abandoned by all. moments later.BHIMSEN 369 so as a result of their own deeds – keep your eyes fixed to the front and walk on…” Bhima heard footsteps approaching behind him. Bhima listened for the sounds that would tell him his brother was staggering under a burden. he thought. he turned and hurried down the path as fast as his tired limbs would take him. Sahadeva would come up to him. we cannot wait for anyone.

taking infinite pains not to disturb Draupadi who slept on in his lap. and spread it out in the shade of a tree. Draupadi just gave up. “I am here. forming words he could not hear. when he attempted to console her. his beloved’s head in his lap. Her eyes closed. Bhima sat there. whipped the horses. and thought back to the 36 years she had ruled as queen. .” she whispered. “God gave me five wonderful sons and I failed them – why would he give me more?” Gently. Her lips moved. He bent closer. She looked up at him for a long moment. Arjuna’s fury had been terrible to behold – he had rushed into the blazing lodge and rushed out again with his Gandiva and his quiver. and Bhima cringed at the disappointment in her eyes.” he told her. had most claim on her affections? A final glimpse of the handsome Nakula. That night. Bhima eased into a more comfortable position and closed his eyes. “I’ll be here for as long as you need me.BHIMSEN 370 Dropping to the ground beside her. he ran around gathering the little grass and moss he could find amidst the rocks. he lifted Draupadi’s head onto his lap. After a while. At first. bleeding and broken. “I think grief has turned me barren. “My children. each of the brothers had in his turn as her husband longed to be the one who would father a heir to the throne. A memory returned to haunt him: the memory of a man who. her head cradled in his lap. wandered the earth far below where they sat. scanning the area for… what? A last sight of the one she loved above all others? Or of the one who. Without even waiting for Krishna. he had jumped into his chariot. and driven away at furious speed. his back against a tree. they had hoped for more children. of Sahadeva whom she had loved as mother and beloved both? She looked back at him.” she had told him once. he carried her to the bed he had made and laid her down. She opened her eyes and looked up at him – and then she looked away. as eldest. Carefully lifting Draupadi up in his arms.” Leaving her lying there. in a voice grown raspy with fatigue.

her eyes fluttered opened and she looked up at him. Bhima decided. Bhima said – for as long as you need me. somewhere down below he wandered still.” And so. Dwaipayana spoke to Ashwathama. it will not be over as long as Ashwathama remains alive. Dwaipayana said. Let him go. It was Krishna who stopped him then – Krishna and the grandsire Dwaipayana. My work is not done yet. the circlet had snapped and cut a deep furrow across his brow. Fighting with a brilliance none had never before seen in him. forlorn and friendless. Arjuna had systematically. “You are still here!” I will be. . to wander the earth. his life a constant reminder of his ultimate treachery. ruthlessly cut down each of Ashwathama’s weapons – and as the murderer of Draupadi’s children stood there helpless. When Krishna ripped it away from him. the blazing Syamanthaka jewel he wore on a gold band tight on his forehead. “You brothers have each committed many sins during the course of this war. They had stripped Ashwathama of his most prized possession. the man who in the dead of night had set fire to the Pandava camp and. Arjuna had cornered Ashwathama and engaged him in a battle that raged ferociously even as they watched. had proceeded to inflict the most gruesome wounds on him in the most deliberate fashion imaginable. He was forbidden to ever enter the gates of any kingdom ruled by kshatriyas. he was doomed. who had rushed to our camp when he caught sight of the fire from across the river and who had followed us to the spot in Nakula’s chariot.BHIMSEN 371 By the time the rest salvaged some weapons from the inferno that was the Pandava camp and caught up with him. I will be here. mercilessly cut down every one of Draupadi’s children. with sword in hand.” Dwaipayana had told the brothers then. While Krishna pacified his friend. Draupadi stirred. “Enough – do not add the killing of yet another Brahmin to those crimes.

her voice a weary whisper. When the first rays of dawn lit up the sky above the distant peak. then. And then he turned and walked back down the mountain. He looked down at her still form for one last time. he gently lifted Draupadi’s head off his lap.BHIMSEN 372 He saw tears moisten her eyes. not moving. she said: “Next time. and stood up. And then she caught his eyes again and. be born the eldest!” Bhima sat there through the night. . He still had work to do. he glanced upward at the path his brothers had taken. She glanced for one last time at the path ahead. seeking the forms of those who had gone on ahead. not thinking.

A couple initially.BHIMSEN 373 E & OE 72 writing days spread across 10 months [with various absences thrown in]. all asking when it would resume. my statement is not pro forma. I particularly treasure this one. the fruits of which will hopefully inform all I do here on at work and on here. each Monday I wait for him to come home from work with the printout of the latest episode. More to the point. It’s been fun. I just don’t have it in me to continue. all saying they missed Bhima.000 words — and it’s finally done. and I quote: “My son introduced me to your wonderful retelling of an epic I have loved. I have no clear idea what I can think of during the daily commutes to and from work. and a little over 135. but meant in all earnestness. then a flood as my hibernation extended. . Please write again — your grandmother would have been so proud of you. Thank you. Only.” I’ll say that now: It wouldn’t have been possible without you. from the elderly mother of a regular reader. at times. I had no clear idea what I had let myself in for. and each Monday I am disappointed. particularly on one occasion when personal problems piled one on top of the other and I took a two month break. ah fuck this.” So — I really couldn’t have done it without you. She wrote. The feedback and the discussions kept me thinking straight. when till last week I had Bhima for mental company. I found it damnably difficult to pick up the thread again and at one point even thought. it’s been one long-drawn out learning experience. There’s a pro forma statement people make at times like this: “It wouldn’t have been possible without you. I didn’t at the time reckon without the emails. *pause to feel the whoosh of relief from this end* When I started this. now that it is done.

put them to my account. . If you found errors and inconsistencies. think kind thoughts of this man — a marvelous writer who deserves to be known far more widely than in just one little sliver of a state.BHIMSEN 374 If you liked the series.

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